Multiple Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells, which are a type of white blood cells which are present in the bone marrow. The main function of these cells is to make a type of proteins called antibodies, which help the body to fight off infections.
When some of the plasma cells develop abnormally, they become myeloma cells. These myeloma cells then begin to multiply. Because there are additional cells manufacturing proteins, the protein level in the blood increases to potentially dangerous levels. As these myeloma cells multiply, they can build up in areas of the bones and cause lesions, and also may interfere with the bone marrow’s production of healthy blood cells. Also, myeloma often results in the production of paraprotein, which can cause kidney problems and also disrupts the body’s production of normal antibodies, which can lead to immunity system difficulties.
In the early stages, multiple myeloma may be detectable through blood or urine tests but may not produce any symptoms. At this stage, close monitoring is necessary to facilitate treatment as soon as it becomes necessary. When symptoms begin to show up, they may include:
*Bone pain, especially in the ribs and the spine. This pain may worsen with activity.
*Infections, especially pneumonia.
*Kidney problems, caused by excessive protein in the blood.
As the affected bones begin to break down a bit, the level of calcium in the bloodstream can increase (a condition known as hypercalcemia), which can make kidney problems worse and may also cause neurological problems, including headaches and vision changes.
As previously mentioned, multiple myeloma may be present in the system without symptoms. At this point, it is important that the disease be monitored to see if it is getting worse; if so, treatment may be necessary. When it is necessary to treat the disease, there are a number of powerful medications which may be used to stop the cancerous growth of the plasma cells; corticosteroids may also be used. Chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy may be used to kill existing cancerous cells. Stem cell or bone marrow transplantation has shown to be an effective treatment for some people. Unfortunately, relapse is a common occurrence among those who have been treated for multiple myeloma. Other common complications may include bone loss, anemia, and kidney damage, which may necessitate dialysis.