Multiple myeloma is a rare type of blood cancer. The chances of getting it are 1 in 132. It’s more likely to affect men, but women get it, too.
While it doesn't always cause symptoms you’d notice, especially early on, it eventually can lead to a few warning signs. Noticeable symptoms might include:
- Pain, weakness, and numbness or tingling
- Brittle bones that hurt and break more easily
- Fever and infections
- More frequent nosebleeds, bruising, and bleeding gums
Unfortunately, these symptoms could mean any number of conditions unrelated to cancer or multiple myeloma, which is part of the reason the disease can be hard to diagnose.
There is not a lump that you could feel or that your doctor could look for, because the disease does not form tumors. If your health care team suspects multiple myeloma, they will look for other warning signs with lab tests and a physical exam. But these signs and lab results also could mimic other health conditions. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about any symptoms you notice as early as possible, especially if they are relatively new and don’t seem to go away
This term stands for signs doctors look for when diagnosing for multiple myeloma. Over time, the disease can cause:
- C = High calcium levels in your blood, or hypercalcemia
- R= Renal, or kidney, problems
- A = Anemia, a low red blood cell count
- B = Bone pain or lesions. This includes:
- Lytic lesions -- damaged bone
- Osteoporosis -- thin bones
- Compression fracture of your spine
Each can cause different symptoms and complications as time goes on.
High Calcium Levels
As bone breaks down, calcium goes into your bloodstream. It's usually flushed out in your urine, but if you have too much -- a condition called hypercalcemia -- your kidneys can have trouble keeping up. You might notice:
- Heavy thirst
- Peeing often
- Kidney problems and even kidney failure
- Severe constipation,
- Abdominal (belly) pain
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling drowsy
Renal, or Kidney, Problems
It takes time for myeloma protein to damage your kidneys. You won’t have symptoms early on, but your doctor might spot signs of kidney damage on a blood test or a urine test. As your kidneys begin to fail, they can’t get rid of extra salt, fluid, and body waste. When this happens you could notice:
- Shortness of breath
- Swollen legs
Low Blood Counts
Myeloma affects many cells that make up your blood.
Anemia: Myeloma cells will eventually crowd out your red blood cells. You may feel:
- Short of breath
- Like you can’t exercise
Leukopenia: You don’t have enough white blood cells. You may be more likely to get infections like pneumonia.
Thrombocytopenia: Your platelet counts fall. This can lead to serious bleeding even from minor scrapes, cuts, or bruises.
Multiple myeloma can destroy areas of bone. This can lead to osteoporosis, which makes your bones brittle. You could have:
- Bone pain in your back, rib cage, hips, or other areas
- Bone weakness
- Bone fractures
Nervous System Problems
Myeloma can lead to a number of problems with your nerves.
Spinal compression: If myeloma affects the bones in your spine, they can press down on your spinal cord. You might feel:
- Sudden, severe back pain
- Numbness or weakness, often in your legs
- Muscle weakness, often in your legs
If you feel something like this, get emergency medical help right away.
Nerve damage: Myeloma proteins can be toxic to your nerves. This can lead to a condition called peripheral neuropathy that causes a pins-and-needles feeling, often in your legs and feet.
Hyperviscosity: A large amount of myeloma protein might make your blood get thicker. This can slow blood flow to your brain and lead to:
- Symptoms of a stroke, like drooping on one side of your face, weakness or numbness in one arm, and slurred speech
Get medical help right away if you have any of these symptoms.
See your doctor as soon as possible if you think you may have multiple myeloma, but keep in mind that other health problems can cause some of these same issues.