Multiple Myeloma

The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 21,700 new cases of multiple myeloma diagnosed in the United States in 2012. It can develop in people of any age but is most common after the age of 50. For reasons unknown to us African Americans have more than double the incidence rate of myeloma than caucasians.

Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that begins the bone marrow and affects the plasma cells which are an important part of our immune system. It occurs when there are too many plasma cells in the bone marrow. The cells grow out of control and can form a tumor, usually in a bone.
Too many plasma cells can cause problems in the bone marrow, where all blood cells are made. The cancer cells crowd out the normal cells and the bone marrow may not be able to make enough red blood cells, platelets, or normal white blood cells.

This can cause problems like:

  • Anemia
    A shortage of red blood cells, which can cause you to be pale, weak, and tired.
  • Bruising or bleeding
    Platelets help stop bleeding; when the plasma cells crowd out platelets you can have a lot of bruising or bleeding.
  • Leukopenia
    A shortage of white blood cells makes it difficult for you to fight infections.

Myeloma cells do not help protect the body from infections. They make antibodies, like normal plasma cells do, but these antibodies do not work to kill germs.

Myeloma also reacts with cells that work to keep the bones strong and cause too much bone to dissolve. The body does not get a signal to replace the bone which results in old bone being broken down and no new bone created to replace it. Consequently bones become weak and break easily. When the bone dissolves it releases calcium in the blood resulting in a high calcium level. This can cause you to feel tired and weak.
Myeloma protein can be toxic to the kidneys, leading to problems with kidney function or even kidney failure.