Cancer comes in nearly innumerable forms, each with its own unique symptoms and mechanisms. Cancer itself can affect nearly any cell in the body. The disease is characterized by abnormalities in cells that contribute to uncontrolled growth that can spread to nearby tissues or prevent oxygen and nutrients from reaching your organs.
Research still does not know the exact cause of these cellular abnormalities, which also makes treatment difficult. Multiple myeloma is just one form of cancer, but can it be cured? Read the Immunity Therapy Center guide below to learn more.
What Is Multiple Myeloma?
Multiple myeloma is a form of cancer that specifically affects your plasma cells. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell. Created in your bone marrow, plasma cells are essential to your immune system.
Lymphocytes, which are cells created in your lymphatic system, are one of the main types of white cells and include T cells and B cells. In response to any infections in the body, B cells mature and turn into plasma cells, creating antibodies designed to identify and attack harmful microbes.
With multiple myeloma, plasma cells become cancerous and grow at an unregulated pace. As a result, the cancerous plasma cells continue to create abnormal antibodies. These are known by various names, including monoclonal immunoglobulin, M-spike, and paraprotein. Unlike normal antibodies, these abnormal antibodies are incapable of properly fighting microbial infections.
The overgrowth of plasma cells in your bone marrow can also push out other blood cells, resulting in low blood counts. This can lead to anemia or low platelet counts.
There are other disorders that can contribute to abnormal plasma cells, including light chain amyloidosis, solitary plasmacytoma, and monoclonal gammopathy. This is why proper diagnosis is an essential step.
Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma
Much like other forms of cancer, the signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma can vary from case to case. In its earliest stages, multiple myeloma does not present with any significant, noticeable symptoms, or the symptoms may be easy to mistake for an entirely separate condition. If you want to learn more about the different stages of myeloma, check our resource on what are the final stages of multiple myeloma.
If you do experience symptoms, they may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Sudden, unintended weight loss
- Physical fatigue
- Confusion or brain fog
- Excessive thirst
- Weakness or numbness in your legs
As mentioned, a low blood count can result in signs of anemia. This can contribute to your physical fatigue and cause breathing problems, irregular heartbeat, or cold hands and feet. If you want to know the difference between the two, read our article on multiple myeloma vs leukemia.
The overgrowth of cells within your bone marrow can also naturally interfere with cells within your bones. This includes osteoclasts (cells that break down old bones) and osteoblasts (cells that build up new bone).
Cancerous cells essentially tell osteoclasts to speed up their function, resulting in bone getting worn down without any cells to rebuild the material, which can lead to persistent bone pain and more frequent fractures. You may also suffer calcium problems.
Multiple myeloma may also make you more vulnerable to infections. Remember, plasma cells play an integral role in supporting your immune system and neutralizing potential microbial threats. With fewer normal plasma cells and more cancerous plasma cells, your body is unable to produce enough antibodies to properly fight off microbial threats, leaving you more open to infections.
Treating Multiple Myeloma
Can multiple myeloma be cured? Not exactly. There is no known cure for multiple myeloma, but there is a wide range of treatment options that can help to control cancer, relieve symptoms, and prevent it from spreading to other organs or becoming a more severe issue.
For a multiple myeloma patient, immediate treatment may not even be necessary. Even with a positive diagnosis, you may not need immediate treatment if you are not experiencing any symptoms or if the cancer is slow growing and at an early stage.
This is known as smoldering multiple myeloma, which is considered a precancerous condition. It can take months or even years for smoldering multiple myeloma to progress to active multiple myeloma, and some people may have a form of the disease that never turns into active multiple myeloma. However, even in this stage, your doctor will closely monitor your condition, which may involve blood and urine tests.
If you do develop symptoms or if your smoldering myeloma becomes active, your doctor or myeloma specialist can provide potential treatment options. While surgery may be used to remove tumors, it is not a typical avenue of multiple myeloma treatment. Instead, treatment typically involves different types of medication to eliminate cancerous cells.
A common form of treatment for most forms of cancer, chemotherapy involves the use of specific medication that can kill cancer cells by preventing them from growing, dividing, or making new cells. Chemotherapy is frequently combined with other forms of treatment to maximize the effect.
Targeted therapy involves using medication that targets proteins, genes, or tissue environments specific to the cancer. This is designed to destroy cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy tissue. Targeted therapy has become increasingly successful in controlling multiple myeloma.
Immunomodulatory drugs work to stimulate the immune system to better identify and attack cancerous cells. Immunomodulatory medication also prevents the formation of new blood vessels that feed and nourish multiple myeloma cells.
Steroid medication, including prednisone and dexamethasone, can effectively reduce the burden of plasma cells. While this effect is temporary, using steroids in conjunction with chemotherapy or targeted therapy may allow for more long-lasting effects and a better prognosis.
Also known as biologic therapy, immunotherapy works to boost your body’s natural defenses to combat cancerous cells. This usually involves using materials that your body makes on its own that are then modified to improve immune function.
Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. The cancer is exposed to the radiation at controlled levels, typically in multiple sessions. This may be used when chemotherapy is not effective, but radiation therapy may not relieve pain related to structural damage in bone.
Bone Marrow Transplant
A bone marrow transplant involves replacing cancerous bone marrow with specialized cells known as hematopoietic stem cells. These cells can turn into red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in your bone marrow.
Hematopoietic stem cells are naturally found in your bone marrow and bloodstream. The procedure usually involves destroying all of the cancer cells in your bone marrow with high levels of chemotherapy, followed by replenishing the bone marrow with the stem cell.
Outlook for Multiple Myeloma
Multiple myeloma is the second most common type of blood cancer after leukemia. While the prognosis for multiple myeloma was poor even just a decade ago, research has allowed for a better understanding of the disease. This has also made way for a wide range of new treatments that can address many of the different facets of multiple myeloma.
Although there is currently no known cure for multiple myeloma, treatments do exist to help you manage the disease and its symptoms, allowing you to live a full and rich life. Consult your doctor to learn about your cancer treatment and myeloma treatment options.
- Cancer.org. What Is Multiple Myeloma? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/multiple-myeloma/about/what-is-multiple-myeloma.html
- Cancer.org. Treating Multiple Myeloma. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/multiple-myeloma/treating.html
- Cancer.net. Multiple Myeloma: Types of Treatment. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/multiple-myeloma/types-treatment
- Nature. Outlook: Multiple myeloma. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03223-2
At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.