Multiple Myeloma

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Multiple myeloma, also known as myeloma or plasma cell myeloma, is a cancer that develops in the blood (a "hematological" cancer). In multiple myeloma, the body produces too many plasma or myeloma cells. These cells produce antibodies that the body doesn't need, which can form tumors and cause other problems.

Multiple myeloma is the second most common cancer of the blood. About 45,000 people have this disease and 14,600 new cases are diagnosed each year in North America. The peak age of the disease onset is 65 to 70 years of age, but recent statistics indicate that the disease is becoming more prevalent and that people are getting the disease at younger ages.

Although the cause of multiple myeloma is unknown, a number of possible associations between myeloma and a decline in the immune system, genetic factors, certain occupations, exposure to certain chemicals and radiation, and a certain virus have been suggested.

Unfortunately, multiple myeloma is fatal. However, new treatments are being developed that are helping patients live longer and healthier lives.

Symptoms of multiple myeloma depend on how advanced the disease has become. In the earliest stages, a person may not have any symptoms.

When symptoms do occur, patients commonly experience:

  • Bone pain (often in the back or ribs)
  • Broken bones
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Repeated infections

When the disease is advanced, symptoms may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Problems with urination
  • Weakness or numbness in the legs

These are not sure signs of multiple myeloma because they can be symptoms of other types of medical problems. You should see a doctor as soon as possible if these symptoms occur for only a health professional can determine what is causing a patient's symptoms.