Multiple Myeloma

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What is a Blood Cancer – How is it Different?

Dr. Nina Shah UCSF Medical Center

What is a cancer of the blood? These cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma, are cancers that primarily affect the bone marrow, the area in your bones where new blood cells are produced. Because they effect the bone marrow, blood cancers are different than solid tumors like those of the lung, prostate, and breasts. When you have a blood cancers like multiple myeloma something goes wrong with each blood cell type produced in the bone marrow:

  • Red blood cells: The cancerous blood cells for multiple myeloma crowd out healthy red blood cells or inhibit the production of new red blood cells. This causes anemia due to low red blood cell counts.
  • Platelets: The production of platelets is hindered by the presence of cancerous plasma cells in the bone marrow. Without functioning and sufficient platelets, the body cannot properly form blood clots to stop bleeding. Symptoms include random nose bleeds and bruises.
  • White blood cells: In multiple myeloma, cancerous plasma cells grow uncontrollably in the bone marrow and crowd out other functioning white blood cells. As a result, the immune system can’t function properly, increasing the risk of infection and causing fatigue.

Dr. Nina Shah, hematologist at UCSF, summarizes blood cancers by explaining, “One cell got really selfish and decided that it needed to take up all the resources of everybody else, and in doing so, took up space and energy from the rest of the body.  In multiple myeloma, the cells that become selfish are plasma cells.

How can doctors detect a blood cancer like multiple myeloma? One important way is to do blood and urine tests which measure antibodies and proteins which indicate the presence and extent of the disease.

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Dr. Nina Shah is a hematologist who specializes in the treatment of multiple myeloma, a type of cancer affecting the blood marrow. She treats patients at the Hematology and Blood and Marrow Transplant Clinic. Read More

Introduction to Multiple Myeloma

SurvivorNet has assembled some of the country’s leading experts to help you understand multiple myeloma and make decisions about your care.