Multiple Myeloma

What is Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects certain white blood cells called plasma cells. Plasma cells and other white blood cells are part of the immune system, which helps protect the body from infection and disease. They produce antibodies – proteins that move through the bloodstream to help the body get rid of harmful substances.

When cancer involves plasma cells, the body produces more and more of these cells – all unneeded, abnormal and exactly alike. These cancerous cells are called myeloma cells. These cells tend to collect in the bone marrow and in the hard, outer part of the bones. They may collect in only one bone and form a tumor, but more often, the myeloma cells collect in many bones, often forming many tumors and causing other problems – thus the name, “Multiple Myeloma.”

Risk Factors of Multiple Myeloma

At this time, doctors and scientists do not know exactly what causes multiple myeloma, or how to prevent it. Although there do not appear to be any clear risk factors, current research suggests the following:

  • Age. Most multiple myeloma patients are between 50 and 70 years old.
  • Race. Seems to affect more African Americans than whites.
  • Being a man. Seems to affect more men than women.
  • Family history. Children, brothers and sisters of multiple myeloma patients have a slightly increased risk of developing this disease.
  • Radiation. Exposure to large amounts of radiation (i.e., survivors of the atomic bomb explosions in Japan) have an increased risk for developing this disease. There does not appear to be an increased risk in people who receive large numbers of medical x-rays.

Common Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma

Symptoms of multiple myeloma depend on how advanced the disease is. In the earliest stage of the disease, there may be no symptoms. As the disease advances, following are some symptoms that may be experienced:

  • Back pain, often in the back or ribs
  • Broken bones
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Repeated infections

These symptoms may be caused by cancer or by other types of medical problems. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor.

Diagnosing Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma may be discovered during a routine physical exam before patients experience any symptoms of the disease. If a person is experiencing symptoms, the doctor will review their personal and family medical history and perform a complete physical exam. The doctor may order a number of tests to determine the cause of the symptoms, including:

Treatment Options for Multiple Myeloma

At this time, multiple myeloma is very hard to cure. Treatment can improve the quality of a patient’s life by controlling the symptoms and complications of the disease. Before beginning a treatment plan, your doctor may want to discuss the stage of your disease with other doctors who treat multiple myeloma, and may encourage you to participate in a clinical trial. Likewise, you may wish to seek a second opinion as well.

Multiple myeloma patients typically receive the following treatment options:

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Radiation TherapyRadiation Oncology
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Find out about our clinical trials for:

Multiple Myeloma

National cancer clinical trials

Our Specialists

Gordon Phillips II, M.D.

Jane Liesveld M.D.

Jainulabdeen J. Ifthikharuddin, M.D.

Steven H. Bernstein, M.D.

Jonathan W. Freidberg, M.D.

Radiation Oncologist

Louis “Sandy” Constine, M.D.

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