What is Multiple Myeloma?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 - 12:19pm
Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology

Multiple Myeloma is the second most common type of hematologic cancer, or cancer found in the cells of blood or bone marrow. Because March is National Myeloma Awareness Month, I’d like to take this opportunity to share some basic information about the disease.

Myeloma is cancer of the plasma cells, which are found in your bone marrow. The normal function of plasma cells is to produce antibodies that help you fight off infections. In a patient with myeloma, these plasma cells become abnormal and replicate themselves at a much faster rate than normal. When these cancerous plasma cells, or myeloma cells, begin to accumulate and collect in multiple areas of the bone marrow, it is known as multiple myeloma.

Who does it affect?

More than 20,000 new cases of multiple myeloma will be diagnosed in the United States each year. Older individuals are more likely to get the disease, with the median age of diagnosis being 66 years old. However, roughly 10% of myeloma patients are under 50 years old. Multiple myeloma is also more common in men and African Americans.

What are the symptoms of multiple myeloma?

Symptoms of multiple myeloma can often be attributed to other health issues, so it’s always important to consult a physician before assuming a diagnosis of cancer. However, multiple myeloma patients may experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Anemia
  • Bone pain
  • Kidney failure
  • High calcium level
  • Repeated infection
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness and fatigue

How is it treated?

There are several treatment options for multiple myeloma. For patients who do not have symptoms or have very early disease, a watchful waiting approach is sometimes used. This means that your doctor will monitor your health very closely until the time comes that treatment interventions are needed because of symptoms or advancing disease.  Many patients who are experiencing symptoms or have more advanced disease will receive a stem cell transplant, in combination with chemotherapy. For older patients or those who are not transplant candidates for other reasons, many types of chemotherapy are available. These drugs are commonly used in various combinations.

Learn more about multiple myeloma treatment options.

What is the Survival Rate?

The survival rate for multiple myeloma has improved over the last decade from an average of 3 years to 7 years. This is due, in part, to autologous stem cell transplant, which is a type of transplant that uses a patient’s own stem cells, as well as novel chemotherapy agents.

At Roswell Park, we continue to explore additional promising treatment options in several ongoing clinical research studies for multiple myeloma.

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