Myeloma - The Facts

Myeloma - The Facts

Originally published in August 2002 icon

What is Myeloma? Causes Symptoms Diagnosis Treatments The Future?

The International Myeloma society provided us with the 1st item (icon - August 2002) Multiple Myeloma - what is it?

Open quotesMyeloma is a cancer of the plasma cellsClose quotes

Item 2 (from the same issue of icon) is a review of Michael Gearin-Tosh’s book - A Medical Mutiny. We feel it is an excellent book, to meet the charming Michael, an Oxford Don, is to see the proof.

Item 3 (from Lab Report - icon - September 2002), discusses Gleevac and its benefits in chronic myeloid leukaemia.

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Item 4 from the same issue (News) discusses Thalidomide in myeloma treatment.

You may also like to refer to Lab Report (icon - June 2003) which advocates a high dose chemotherapy as more effective than traditional methods against myeloma.

Multiple Myeloma ~ What is It?

Myeloma, also known as multiple myeloma and myelomatosis, is a cancer of the plasma cells, important cells of the immune system that produce and release antibodies (immunoglobulins) to help fight infection. Malignant plasma cells (myeloma cells) produce an abnormal immunoglobulin (paraprotein), making myeloma patients, among other things, susceptible to infection.

What Causes Myeloma?

While the specific cause of myeloma has not yet been identified, possible associations with a weakened immune system, genetic factors, radiation, viruses and exposure to certain chemicals are thought to be important trigger factors. (For example, there is a significantly higher incidence of myeloma in farmers who frequently handle pesticides.)

What Are the Common Symptoms of Myeloma?

Open quotesFrequent recurrent infections and kidney damage can also be seen in myeloma patientsClose quotes

Pain in the lower back or ribs, which is a result of a build up of plasma cells in the bone marrow, upsetting normal bone resorption (build up and break down) and causing bone to thin or fracture (lytic lesions) Unusual tiredness due to anaemia (low red blood cells). Frequent recurrent infections, such as bacterial pneumonia, urinary tract infections, or shingles Hypercalceamia (high levels of calcium in blood) and kidney damage can also be seen in myeloma patients

How Common is Myeloma?

Myeloma is the second most common blood cancer after non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and represents 1% of all cancers and 2% of all cancer deaths. Myeloma is the third fastest growing cancer in people ages 65 and under. This year 3,500 Britons will be diagnosed with myeloma. It is 50% more common in men. In the U.K. the incidence in people over 65 is 25-30 per 100,000. In China it is about 1 per 100,000. Myeloma is more common in Afro-Caribbean ethnic groups than it is in whites (approx 9.5 versus 4 per 100,000)

How is Myeloma Diagnosed?

A diagnosis is based on laboratory and radiographic findings and depends on three abnormal results: Bone marrow containing more than 10% plasma cells (normally less than 4% of cells in the bone marrow are plasma cells) X-rays showing generalised thinning of the bones and/or evidence of lytic lesions.

There are a number of other tests and values that are used to diagnose and stage the disease. These are helpful in choosing the best treatments and can be indicative of prognosis in some cases.

What Are the Treatments of Myeloma?

As there is currently no known cure for myeloma treatments are aimed at halting the progress of the disease, controlling the symptoms and improving patients’ quality of life. Briefly, the most common treatments include standard chemotherapy, high dose chemotherapy followed by stem cell transplant, bisphosphonates and thalidomide.

Open quotesTypically patients would survive on average 3-5 yearsClose quotes

What is the Prognosis?

Typically patients would survive on average 3-5 years depending on the stage of disease, type of treatment and response to treatment. Although patients do achieve prolonged symptom-free periods, relapse occurs in virtually all cases. Occasionally, very early stage myeloma requires no treatment and a ’watch and wait’ approach is adopted. Generally, patients who choose not have treatment although requiring it have a very poor prognosis.

The Future?

There are several new treatments in trial for myeloma and the understanding of the biology of the disease is increasing all the time. Great advances have been made in recent years with the introduction of bisphosphonates and thalidomide. The signs are there that more developments may be on the horizon.

Our thanks go to the International Myeloma Foundation for providing these details.

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