Multiple myeloma is a form of blood cancer that develops in plasma cells. Plasma is a type of white blood cell that produce antibodies and help the immune system to fight off infections and foreign invaders. Blood cells are produced in the bone marrow, and when cancer develops in a blood cell it crowds out healthy disease fighting cells in the marrow, and leads to the production of defective and abnormal cell proteins, which compromise the body’s ability to fight off infections, and can lead to damage to the kidneys.
What Causes Multiple Myeloma and Bone Marrow Cancer?
There are several different types of blood cells, and the form of cancer depends on the particular cell in which it originates. Healthy cells have a normal life span where they eventually die and are replaced with by new cells. Cancer results from a malfunction that causes the affected cells to keep growing, forming tumors that can disrupt normal function and eventually spread to other organs and cells throughout the body. When cancer cells replicate, they make a copy of the cell with the defective genetic code, which can eventually outnumber healthy cells.
Like sarcomas, a form of cancer that forms in the connective tissue (blood, fat, cartilage, and bone) myeloma is a relatively rare disease, affecting less than 200,000 Americans each year. The symptoms, treatment, and prognosis vary according to each case. Some people may not require treatment, while others may require active treatment with chemotherapy or a stem cell transplant.
Myeloma is exceptionally rare in people under the age of 35, with most diagnoses occurring in patients over 65. It is more common in men, and African Americans are twice as likely to develop the condition. Family history, obesity, other plasma diseases, and exposure to radiation can potentially increase the risk of developing this form of blood cancer.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Myeloma?
Some people in Los Angeles may not experience noticeable symptoms. General symptoms include pain, loss of appetite and fever. As it progresses, it can affect the bones, blood counts, nervous system, immune system, and kidneys.
- Pain (most common in the hips, back, and base of the skull)
- Plasmacytoma (plasma tumor in bone or soft tissue)
- Osteoporosis (which can result in brittle bones, breaks, and fractures)
Because plasma and white blood cells play a critical role in immune function and fighting disease, blood cancer patients are more susceptible to infections, and often have difficulty recovering from illnesses or responding to medication due to a weakened immune system.
Low blood counts – The blood is made up of red and white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. Myeloma can deplete levels of healthy blood cells, which can cause a series of secondary health problems, the most common are:
- Anemia – caused by low red blood cell counts, can result in fatigue, shortness of breath, and dizziness
- Leukopenia – caused by low white blood cell counts, increases the risk for infections and potentially serious illnesses like pneumonia
- Thrombocytopenia – caused by low platelet counts, compromises the blood’s ability to clot properly, even from minor cuts and bruises
Hypercalcemia – Some myeloma patients experience an excessive buildup of calcium in the blood, which can cause a range of symptoms, some potentially serious and life threatening:
- Excessive thirst and dehydration
- Abdominal pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Kidney failure
Hyperviscosity – This is a thickening of the blood, which can impede flow to the brain and vital organs, potentially causing confusion, dizziness, and stroke like symptoms like slurred speech and weakness on one side of the body. Hyperviscosity is caused by excessive protein levels in the blood from malignant plasma cells.
The protein buildup that causes hyperviscosity in the blood can also lead to problems with kidney function. The symptoms of kidney malfunction usually include weakness and fatigue, shortness of breath, and edema (swelling) in the lower extremities.
Myeloma Diagnosis and Treatment in Los Angeles
Myeloma can be diagnosed through blood and diagnostic imaging tests:
- Blood counts
- Quantitative immunoglobulins
- Free light chains
- Beta-2 microglobulin
- Blood chemistry
- Bone marrow biopsy
- Flow cytometry
- FISH (fluorescent in situ hybridization)
- Fine needle aspiration
- Core needle biopsy
- Bone X-ray
- CT scan
- PET scan
As with all forms of cancer, myeloma treatment and recovery rates depend on a number of factors, such as stage at time of diagnosis, and the patient’s overall health and circumstances. It is staged from levels I through III depending on how far the tumors have advanced, the age of the patient at time of diagnosis, and corresponding kidney function. Depending on the stage, treatment typically includes:
- Blood transfusion
- Stem cell transplant
Contact an Orthopedic Oncologist in Los Angeles
For more information on diagnostic testing and treatment for sarcomas and rare forms of blood and bone cancer, contact board certified orthopedic oncologist Dr. Daniel C. Allison by calling 310-730-8008 to schedule an appointment today.
Next, read about Metastic Bone Disease