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Multiple Myeloma

What Is Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myeloma is a cancer that affects plasma cells, a kind of white blood cell found in the soft insides of your bones, called marrow. Plasma cells are part of your body's immune system. They make antibodies to help fight off infections.

There is no cure for multiple myeloma, but treatment can often help you feel better and live longer. To make the best possible choices about your treatment and care, you'll want to learn as much as you can about the disease.

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With this cancer, your plasma cells multiply and grow out of control. They crowd out healthy cells, including red and white blood cells and those that keep bones strong.

Over time, plasma cells spill out of your bone marrow and travel to other parts of your body, which can damage your organs.

The disease can weaken your immune system, lead to anemia, and cause kidney and bone problems.

You may not notice any symptoms until the cancer is advanced, meaning it has spread inside your body.

Getting this kind of diagnosis is hard for you and the people in your life. It's important that you and your family get support to manage this disease. 

Causes

Scientists don't know exactly what causes multiple myeloma. In some people, it may be brought on by changes (mutations) in genes that control how cells grow.

You may be more likely to get this cancer if you are:

  • Age 65 or older
  • Male
  • African-American
  • Overweight or obese

Your chances go up if you have other family members with multiple myeloma.

Other conditions can play a role, too. The diseases MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of uncertain significance) and solitary plasmacytoma also affect plasma cells. People with these conditions need to watch for multiple myeloma.

Symptoms

You may not have any symptoms at first. As this cancer develops and plasma cells build up, though, you might have:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Bone pain and weakness
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • More thirst
  • Infections
  • Bruising or purple-colored rash
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Weight loss

Getting a Diagnosis

Before you have any tests, your doctor will want to know:

  • When did you first notice symptoms?
  • Do you have pain? Where?
  • How is your appetite?
  • Have you lost any weight?
  • Are you more tired than usual? When did this start?
  • Are you being treated for any medical conditions?
  • Do you take any medications?
  • Does anyone in your family have cancer? What type?
  • Does anyone in your family have a blood condition? What type?

Blood and urine tests can diagnose multiple myeloma. One of the main ones is called electrophoresis. It measures the level of antibodies, called immunoglobulins, in your urine and blood. Your body makes immunoglobulins when it is trying to fight something.

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