Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer involving plasma cells, a special kind of mature white blood cells that reside in the bone marrow and help fight infection. In response to infections, these plasma cells normally produce proteins that help your immune system fight off germs.
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 properly fight off infection, causing fatigue. Once the cancerous cells, or myelomas, grow too large in the bone marrow, bone fractures can occur. The cancerous cells also release abnormally high levels of antibodies into the bloodstream, which eventually end up in the kidney for processing. Since the kidneys are unable to process these extra proteins, they build up and cause kidney damage.
Multiple myeloma can be divided up into categories that help inform physicians which treatments and approaches are best to use. “We tend to [divide them] based on how risky the myeloma is, whereas other cancers will be staged based on how far the cancer has spread,” Dr. Nina Shah, a hematologist at UCSF Medical Center explains. There are three stages of myeloma:
While a multiple myeloma diagnosis can feel devastating, recent advances in medicine have made the disease something that you can live with when caught early and managed properly. As Shah explains, “We want to make sure we make people understand that it’s a disease that you can live with not necessarily that you have to die of.”
SurvivorNet has assembled some of the country’s leading experts to help you understand multiple myeloma and make decisions about your care.
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