Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that targets plasma cells, which are white blood cells found in bone marrow. Plasma cells are important because they generate infection-fighting antibodies that are crucial to the body’s overall health. When these cancerous cells multiply, they typically cause tumors within the bones. The condition can also cause bone loss. This greatly hinders the body’s ability to properly generate antibodies. According to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, it represents approximately 1 percent of all cancers for Caucasians and 2 percent of all cancers for African Americans.
Cause of Multiple Myeloma
The cause of multiple myeloma is currently unclear. Even so, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recognizes certain risk factors that appear to increase the likelihood of developing it. Being over the age of 65, having a family history of the disease, radiation exposure, obesity and other plasma cell diseases seem to increase the overall risk.
Symptoms and Treatment
Early-stage multiple myeloma may not show any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they often include elevated calcium levels in the blood, renal failure, anemia, and bone disease. Since the body cannot make antibodies properly, people with multiple myeloma are more prone to infections. There is currently no cure for multiple myeloma, so treatment options focus more on relieving symptoms and improving quality of life. In some cases, radiation therapy or surgery to remove a tumor may be options. A tumor can only be removed if it’s not located in the bone. According to the ACS, stem cell transplantation is becoming more common in younger patients who are otherwise healthy.
In most cases, the disease is treated using a combination of approaches. Overall, multiple myeloma represents a relatively rare form of cancer. The risk of getting it is less than 1 percent, according to the ACS. About 24,000 new cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.
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