What is Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that forms in plasma cells, which are white blood cells in the bone marrow that help the body fight diseases. It typically occurs in the bone marrow of the ribs, spine, shoulders, and hips. As the malignant plasma cells multiply, they crowd out the normal cells and eventually reach the outer part of the bone, where they form a tumor. If only one tumor forms, the condition is called solitary plasmacytoma. If many tumors form, it is called multiple myeloma.

In its early stages, there are likely no visible symptoms, but the following issues often characterize the disease in later stages:

  • Infections, which happen when there are not enough normal plasma cells to produce antibodies against viruses and bacteria.
  • Low blood counts, which result when abnormal plasma cells far outnumber normal cells. Severely low blood counts for an extended period may cause anemia, a disorder in which the body isn't able to produce enough red blood cells.
  • Weak bones, which develop when the malignant cells cause other cells in the marrow to remove the solid part of the bone, creating soft spots called osteolytic lesions.
  • Kidney issues, which may lead to kidney failure if not treated promptly.
It is unclear what causes multiple myeloma. Research has linked it to exposure to radiation, certain chemicals, or a general decline in immune function. The condition may be diagnosed by various methods. Aside from a complete physical evaluation, imaging procedures like X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diagnostic tests, such as blood tests and bone marrow biopsies, may be performed to help detect multiple myeloma.

Several treatments are available for this disease. As with many other types of cancer, high-dose chemotherapy and radiation therapy are frequently used. Bisphosphonates, which are medications to treat bone problems, may also be prescribed. Although no cure has been found, studies have reported that the prognosis for multiple myeloma has improved significantly over the past decade.

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