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What is Multiple Myeloma? Print E-mail
Written by Phillip LaVeque   
Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Multiple myeloma occurs when a specialized white cell, known as a plasma cell, becomes cancerous.

What is going on in the body?

Like all components of blood, plasma cells are produced in the bone marrow. Plasma cells produce proteins that help protect the body from infection. After one or more of these cells becomes cancerous, they multiply rapidly. The proteins these cancerous cells make do not work as well as normal proteins. The cancerous cells produce very large amounts of the faulty proteins. These cancerous cells may also crowd out normal cells. Some of the cancerous plasma cells will leave the bone marrow and enter the bloodstream. Some of these cells may enter bones and destroy them. The disease usually takes many years to develop.

What are the causes and risks of the disease?
There is no known cause of multiple myeloma.

What are the treatments for the disease?
Treatment is designed to control the cancer and treat the symptoms.

Chemotherapy involves a combination of medications given by mouth or through the veins. These dmedications may control the disease for many years. Steroids are sometimes added to chemotherapy to make it work better.

Radiation therapy can treat a bone involved with the cancer. Pain will be reduced. Radiation may help prevent a break in the bone.

Plasmapheresis is a procedure that removes a large amount of abnormal protein from the blood. This will reduce the damage to the kidneys from too much protein. If a person is having other symptoms from high proteins, those symptoms will be reduced.

A special medication, called Aredia, can be given to reduce excess calcium in the blood. This will also strengthen the bones.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
Specific side effects of chemotherapy depend on the medication selected. Mild nausea is the most common symptom. This is easily controlled. Temporary hair loss, known as alopecia, may occur. Intensive chemotherapy may have moderate to severe side effects that require more supportive care. Radiation treatment for this cancer is designed to offer relief from pain. It is well tolerated.

What happens after treatment for the disease?

The person will be followed closely after treatment. Treatment may be repeated after the person recovers from the side effects. Problems like weakened bones will be treated as they occur.

How is the disease monitored?
Total protein blood tests and serum protein electrophoresis will be done regularly, along with kidney function tests. Complete blood counts, or CBC's, will be done to measure the number of white cells and red cells. All of these tests will monitor the effects of chemotherapy and the course of the disease. Bone marrow biopsies may be done periodically.


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