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Multiple myeloma is a form of cancer that is caused by the malignant and abnormal growth of plasma cells.
Plasma cells are immune cells typically found in the bone marrow that specialize in the production of antibodies, proteins that help the body to fight off infection. When plasma cells undergo rapid abnormal growth, they can form tumors called plasmacytomas. Multiple myeloma is characterized by the presence of multiple tumors. The presence of only one plasmacytoma would suggest a different disease known as isolated plasmacytoma.
Multiple myeloma is characterized by the presence of multiple malignant plasma cell tumors known as plasmacytomas. Plasma cells are formed when B lymphocytes mature in response to an infection. Lymphocytes are one of five types of white blood cells. Mature lymphocytes all look quite alike, but are actually incredibly diverse with respect to their individual functions. The two main types of lymphocytes are:
Researchers are not yet sure of what causes the abnormal replication of plasma cells found in multiple myeloma patients. One of the leading theories on the cause of multiple myeloma is that the cancerous growth of plasma cells is triggered by a DNA mutation. Recent studies have found that mutations to certain oncogenes, parts of DNA that control cell replication, can cause the cancerous division of plasma cells.
According to the American Cancer society, there are several factors that can affect your risk of developing multiple myeloma:
Multiple myeloma can often be difficult to diagnose. An accurate diagnosis of multiple myeloma will most likely involve a combination of several different diagnostic techniques. Current diagnostic criteria for multiple myeloma requires the presence of at least one major and three minor criteria. According to the Multiple Myeloma research foundation, the major and minor criteria are as follows:
The following diagnostic tests may be used in reaching a multiple myeloma diagnosis:
According to the American Cancer Society, the following are the most common signs of multiple myeloma:
The prognosis for multiple myeloma patients largely depends on the stage of the disease upon diagnosis. Unfortunately, multiple myeloma often does not produce noticeable symptoms until it has reached later stages of the disease.
According to the American Cancer Society, the median survival rates (average amount of time lived after diagnosis) for specific stages of multiple myeloma are as follows:
It is important to remember that these statistics are only median statistics – meaning that there are many cases in which patients live both longer and shorter than the listed time. The doctor for a patient with multiple myeloma will be able to give the most accurate and personalized prognosis for that specific case.
Receiving a diagnosis of multiple myeloma can be extremely difficult. The following tips can help you live easier with multiple myeloma:
Multiple myeloma is not a universally screened-for disease because it rarely occurs in patients below the age of 65 and often is difficult to detect in its early stages. Patients above the age of 65 should visit a doctor for regular checkups and report and symptoms they may be experiencing.
Because the causes of multiple myeloma are unknown, there are no known methods of prevention.
There are many different options available for multiple myeloma. These include:
Drug Therapy. Drug therapies for multiple myeloma can either be aimed at slowing the replication of cancerous cells or killing the cancerous cells altogether. According to the Multiple Myeloma Research foundation, the following are the most common drug therapies used to treat multiple myeloma patients. Drug therapy may include taking one drug or a combination of several.
Stem Cell Transplants. In stem cell transplantation, the patient is given a high dose of chemotherapy to kill off the cancerous cells and then infused with healthy stem cells with the aim of replacing those that have been killed. Stem cells are most commonly harvested from the patient’s blood after he or she has been given medications that stimulate the growth
Radiation Therapy, which uses high-energy radiation to kill or damage cancerous cells.
Surgery. Orthopedic surgical intervention can help to reinforce or repair bones that have been damaged by multiple myeloma. Surgical intervention can help a patient maintain or regain mobility. Not all patients are eligible for surgery, so be sure to consult your doctor about surgical options.
Though there is little clinical research to support alternative treatment methods for multiple myeloma, there are several methods that many claim to be beneficial. These include:
Acupuncture. Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine in which small needles are inserted at points around the body to restore the flow of bodily energy. It has been proven to reduce overall stress, stimulate the immune system, and reduce bodily inflammation. Acupuncture can be used as either a complimentary therapy (i.e., to reduce side effects of chemotherapy) or as an alternative therapy (to boost the immune system to fight off cancer cells).
Mind/body techniques, which help to strengthen the mind and body connection in order to reduce anxiety, stress, and improve overall health. These include:
If you experience any of the symptoms of multiple myeloma, contact your doctor immediately.
If you are undergoing treatment of multiple myeloma and experience any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor immediately:
**If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call emergency services. These may be signs of stroke or heart attack.
You may want to ask your doctor the following questions after receiving a multiple myeloma diagnosis:
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