Multiple Myeloma and Other Plasma Cell Neoplasms

What is myeloma?

Myeloma is a form of cancer that begins in the plasma cells of the bone marrow, which results in large numbers of abnormal plasma cells being produced. The abnormal cells fill the bone marrow and interrupt the production of white and red blood cells. Myeloma can occur in areas where there are plasma cells and it can influence many parts of the body; otherwise known as multiple myeloma.

Types of myeloma

There are different kinds of myeloma and they are categorised in relation to the type of immunoglobulin produced by the myeloma cells. Different types include IgG, IgA, IgD, IgM and IgE – IgG is the most common form and IgD, IgE and IgM are very rare.

What are the causes of myeloma?

Myeloma is a rare form of cancer and is uncommon in people under the age of 40. The fixed cause of myeloma is unknown, but certain risks are thought to be linked. These include:

  • Weakened immunity
  • Family history
  • Ethnicity: myeloma is more often found in black people than white people
  • MGUS (this is a rare medical condition which is associated with a huge risk of developing myeloma)

Symptoms of myeloma

Symptoms of myeloma include:

  • Bone pain: this is the most common symptom of myeloma
  • Tiredness and a lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • Bruising and bleeding easily
  • Kidney problems
  • Increased susceptibility to infections and illness

How is myeloma diagnosed?

If you feel poorly or you develop applicable symptoms, your GP is the best place to start to have these issues resolved. If your GP believes there is a chance of you having myeloma they will call in a specialist for further assessment. Tests that will be performed with the specialist at the hospital include blood tests, biopsy tests, X-rays and a urine test. The test results will then be analysed to allow the doctor to make a definite diagnosis.

What treatments are available for myeloma?

The main treatments used for myeloma include chemotherapy, biological therapy and steroids. Your treatment plan will be decided based on numerous factors, including your health, the stage of the cancer and your age. The aim of treatment is remission when the individual does not incur any symptoms.

What is the outlook for people with myeloma?

The results of treatment for people with myeloma will generally depend on the stage of the cancer, the cancer's response to treatment and the general wellbeing and fitness of the individual. Around 59 percent of people diagnosed with myeloma in England and Wales survive for at least a year after diagnosis.

Living with myeloma

Living with myeloma cancer can be extremely difficult and you may experience a whole host of emotions. If you need help, support or information, your care team will be available to help and answer any questions you have, and you can also contact cancer charities for additional support.

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