What is myeloma?
Myeloma (also known as multiple myeloma or plasma cell myeloma) is a rare form of cancer that affects the plasma cells (mature B-lymphocytes) in bone marrow. When B cells respond to an infection, they mature and change into plasma cells. Plasma cells create antibodies that help the body to defend itself against infections.
Myeloma develops when these cells begin to multiply abnormally and out of control. This leads to tumours forming. Myeloma cells multiply in a way that weakens the bone marrow. This can lead to brittle bones that break more easily. It can also cause anaemia due to a lack of red blood cells.
Around 1 in 132 people are affected by bone cancers such as myeloma.
Causes and risk factors of myeloma:
The exact cause of myeloma remains unknown. However, there are several risk factors associated with the cancer. A risk factor is something that increases the likelihood of cancer occurring. Risk factors do not guarantee that myeloma will occur, and a lack of risk factors does not guarantee immunity from myeloma.
Common risk factors for myeloma include:
- Age -Less than 1% of cases occur in people younger than 35. The older a person gets, the higher the risk is.
- Gender – Men have a slightly higher risk of developing myeloma.
- Skin colour – People with darker pigmented skin (particularly of African descent) are around twice more likely to develop myeloma.
- Monoclonal Gammopathy – monoclonal gammopathy (MGUS) is a condition where an abnormal about of monoclonal protein is present in the blood. It has been linked with an increased risk of myeloma.
Symptoms of myeloma:
There are several common symptoms associated with myeloma. These include the following:
- Bone pain and weakness – Myeloma can cause bones to become brittle. This can lead to noticeable pain, as well as an increased risk of broken bones (fractures).
- Aneamia – Myeloma can result in a reduced amount of red blood cells. Anaemia is caused by a low red blood cell count. This can lead to fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath.
- Increased risk of infection – Myeloma can also affect the bloodstream’s white blood cell count, leading to decreased immunity against infections.
- Elevated blood calcium levels – When too much calcium enters your bloodstream, it can cause many different symptoms such as dehydration, increased urination, kidney problems, weakness, drowsiness and constipation.
How is myeloma diagnosed?
A doctor may perform a variety of tests to check blood levels and look for irregularities. These may include:
- Blood tests – To check for blood creatinine, calcium and other proteins electrolytes in the bloodstream. Abnormal levels are associated with myeloma.
- Urine tests – A urine test can be done to check for myeloma proteins that have been filtered through the kidneys.
A biopsy is a process where tissue is removed from the suspected location of the tumour. It is then tested in a lab to determine if the cells are benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). For most forms of bone marrow biopsies, a thin needle is inserted to remove a sample of bone marrow or surrounding tissue. Anaesthetic may be used depending on the type of procedure.
Scans / imaging
Imaging tests such as X-rays, MRIs and CT scans allow doctors to see the inside of the body. For myeloma, they may be done to:
- Examine suspicious areas for signs of cancer
- Determine whether cancer has spread to surrounding tissue
- Determine how treatment is affecting the cancer
Treatment for myeloma:
There are several available treatments for myeloma. The type of recommended treatment varies depending on the stage, severity and location of the myeloma. Below are some of the most common forms of treatment:
One of the most common ways to treat myeloma is chemotherapy, where doctors will use a combination of drugs which destroy cancer or prevent cancer cells from reproducing. The type of drugs used will vary depending on several factors.
Chemotherapy is usually administered orally or intravenously in a series of sessions. The time between each sessions gives your body a chance to recover.
Chemotherapy does cause side effects, which include:
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Loss of hair
- Increased risk of infection
In targeted therapy, medication is used to target specific genes, proteins and tissues to prevent cancer from growing. Targeted therapy may also be used to strengthen the immune system, allowing for increased resistance.
Corticosteroids are drugs which improve the effectiveness of other treatments such as chemotherapy. They may also reduce the symptoms associated with chemotherapy.
During radiation therapy, the targeted area receives a dose of radiation either via high-energy x-rays. The radiation destroys the cancer cells, allowing for reduced symptoms. Radiation therapy is often used in combination with other treatment options to improve their effectiveness.
Stem cell transplant:
A stem cell transplant is where some stem cells (either from your own body or a donor) are removed and frozen. Next, high doses of chemotherapy and radiation therapy are administered. This destroys all bone marrow cells, including healthy ones. Finally, the previously extracted stem cells are reintroduced. These stem cells replace the damaged bone marrow and create healthy blood.
What support can we give for myeloma?
Myeloma is a rare cancer, meaning it is not as well known as other forms of cancer. Without a Ribbon is an Australian organisation that provides support for individuals who suffer from rare cancers. We provide a designated platform for Warriors to obtain information specific to their Rare Cancer. We also provide annual opportunities for our Warriors to meet and learn from each other.
If you suffer from a rare cancer such as myeloma, we can help and support you through your journey thanks to the generous donations we receive. Click the link below to sign up and become a Warrior today!
You can help us with your donation:
Without a Ribbon is a charity that works hard to aid those who suffer from rare cancers. You can help our cause in a variety of ways:
Donations – Without a Ribbon is grateful for every donation received. Giving to Without a Ribbon helps us to provide ongoing support, organise the annual gathering and subsidise the costs of our Warriors attending these conferences.
Sponsorship – If you wish to sponsor our charity, please contact us using this form.
Volunteering – We are always looking for volunteers to help with different aspects of running our charity. If you are looking for volunteer work, please feel free to contact us.