Amyloidosis is not cancer, but in some cases it can be associated with a cancer called multiple myeloma, which begins in the bone marrow. Multiple myeloma involves abnormal plasma cells that produce abnormal proteins, which then can turn into amyloid protein.
Proteins drive almost all the activities inside a cell. When a protein is misfolded (shaped wrong), it doesn’t work the way it should. Amyloidosis occurs when misfolded proteins accumulate in different parts of the body — such as the kidneys, the heart, the nerves and the gastrointestinal system — and can’t be eliminated.
This can cause the affected organs to malfunction. For example, the heart may become weak (cardiac amyloidosis), leading to a build-up of fluid in the legs or around the lungs. The kidneys may fail. If the nerves are affected, the patient may experience neuropathy. (Roswell Park's Palliative Care team can assist patients with amyloidosis who experience neuropathy.)
How is amyloidosis treated?
Treatment of amyloidosis depends on how the misfolded protein is produced. The most common type of amyloidosis, called AL amyloidosis, occurs when the protein is produced by monoclonal plasma cells in a patient who has multiple myeloma, smoldering multiple myeloma or MGUS. When this happens, the treatment is similar to the treatment for multiple myeloma and usually involves chemotherapy.
Another type, called ATTR amyloidosis, occurs when the protein is produced by the liver. In this case, treatment focuses on the way the cells produce — or synthesize — the protein. Instead of chemotherapy, this type of amyloidosis is treated with specific medications that affect the production of the protein itself.
A blood stem cell transplant may be an option for some patients with AL amyloidosis. Roswell Park is one of the nation’s top centers for transplant. We were among the first centers in the world to routinely offer transplants and have excellent patient survival results.
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