The term myeloma refers to cancer of special
types of white blood cells called plasma cells. Plasma cells are important
components of the immune system. They help the body's immune system in resisting
the disease by producing substances called antibodies. Plasma cells are located
mainly in the bone marrow and grow from white blood cells called B-lymphocytes.
When microorganisms invade the body, the process gets out of control and
numerous abnormal plasma cells are formed. Myeloma cells are formed in the bone marrow.
Certain genetic mutations can cause plasma cells to become abnormal and persist to divide over and over again until they finally shape a tumor. Abnormal plasma cells, or myeloma cells are cancer cells that produce a peculiar type of antibody called M proteins. The M proteins in patients with multiple myeloma can be found in the blood or urine by specialized techniques known as protein electrophoresis and immunofixation. When the cancer cells develop in the bone marrow, they can lead to pain and destruction of the bones. In addition, when the bones in the spine are affected, it can put a pressure on the nerves, which leads to numbness or paralysis. The true cause of multiple myeloma is still unknown. However, several factors have been connected to myeloma, such as genetic abnormalities, exposure to certain chemicals, radiation, certain viral infections and immune system dysfunction. Multiple myeloma occurs a little more frequently in men than in women. Multiple myeloma is considered to be a disease of older persons. The most common symptom is back pain. Other symptoms may include symptoms of anemia (such as tiredness, shortness of breath), unexplained fractures, bleeding problems, increased susceptibility to infection, food aversion, constipation.
Most often, myeloma is detected when blood tests reveal anemia or a high level of protein. A urine test may show protein in the urine. Sometimes, a chest x-ray will identify osteoporosis in the spine or a compression of a vertebral body. Examination of the bone marrow is needed to make the diagnosis of myeloma and to evaluate the extent of the disease. A bone marrow biopsy should also be done. Staging is significant because it helps the oncologist establish the optimal timing of therapy, the best type of treatment, and the chance for remission and survival of each person with myeloma.
Multiple myeloma is a disorder that has a tendency to grow worse over time. However, the aim of treatment is to relieve the symptoms. Treatment options that may be recommended are: medicines (involving antibiotics to prevent infections, regulate kidney problems or control anemia), chemotherapy (mostly combined with steroids), bone marrow transplantation, transfusions to prevent systemic anemia and radiation.