Your blood is an integral part of your health and essential to nearly all your body’s basic functions. It supports your immune system and allows wounds to heal properly. Blood takes oxygen from your lungs, transports it to all of the cells and tissues in your body, and removes carbon dioxide.
Just about every part of your body needs blood, but blood can succumb to its own problems. There is a wide range of blood diseases and disorders. Multiple myeloma is the second most common cancer affecting hematologic cells, while the most common is leukemia. So, when you speak with a specialist, you’ll learn more about the difference between multiple myeloma vs leukemia. Learn more about multiple myeloma and its final stages in the comprehensive guide from Immunity Therapy Center below.
What Is Multiple Myeloma?
Cancer, in general, refers to the abnormal, uncontrolled growth of otherwise healthy cells. That uncontrolled growth can eventually take nutrients from healthy cells, cut off oxygen to tissues and organs, and potentially spread to other parts of the body.
Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer that specifically affects plasma cells. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell that are a mature form of B cells. B cells are a type of lymph cell, and when they notice any harmful microbes or potential infections, they change into plasma cells. Much like other blood-forming cells, plasma cells are found primarily in your bone marrow, which is the soft tissue found in your bones.
Plasma cells are responsible for making antibodies, also known as immunoglobulins, in response to an infection. Antibodies work to properly identify and eliminate harmful bacteria and viruses. With multiple myeloma, the cancerous plasma cells continue to create antibodies (known as monoclonal immunoglobulin, monoclonal protein, or M-spike) Still, these antibodies are abnormal and unable to identify or protect the body from outside threats in the same way, which severely diminishes your natural immune functions.
Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma
Multiple myeloma can be difficult to identify for a lot of reasons. In some multiple myeloma patients, the initial symptoms may be mild or easy to mistake for other common conditions. In its earliest stages, multiple myeloma may manifest as smoldering multiple myeloma.
Smoldering multiple myeloma is considered by many experts as a precancerous condition, and it is not alarming in itself. It typically does not present with any symptoms, and it may not require any treatment beyond regular monitoring. In some myeloma patients, smoldering myeloma may not even progress to active multiple myeloma.
When multiple myeloma does manifest symptoms, some common symptoms include:
- Unintended weight loss and loss of appetite
- Confusion and mental fog
- Weakness or numbness in your legs and extremities
- Excessive thirst
Remember, plasma cells are created in the bone marrow. Overgrowth of plasma cells can crowd out other blood cells, leading to a low blood count. A lack of viable red blood cells is known as anemia and can cause a wide range of symptoms, from dizziness and weakness to shortness of breath. Multiple myeloma may also cause low platelet counts. Platelets are the cells that allow for clotting in wounds. Low blood platelets can lead to wounds that keep bleeding as well as frequent bruising.
Multiple myeloma can also lead to bone pain. Cancerous plasma cells can interfere with bone formation and maintenance. Substances made by the abnormal plasma cells can stimulate osteoclasts, which are the cells responsible for breaking down old bone. With so much bone getting broken down without new bone to replace it, you may experience bone pain, and you may even be more susceptible to fractures.
The breakdown of bone material can also contribute to higher levels of calcium in your blood, also known as hypercalcemia. This can lead to a wide range of issues and if left untreated, high calcium levels can potentially lead to a coma.
As plasma cells are so necessary to the immune system, abnormalr plasma cells can have a massive impact on your immune function. As mentioned, malignant plasma cells do create antibodies, but these antibodies are abnormal and don’t perform the same function as regular antibodies.
With fewer viable antibodies, your body has trouble fighting off microbial threats. You may get sicker more often and for longer periods of time. Simple illnesses or infections may become severe and dangerous.
Final Stages of Multiple Myeloma
By the final or end stages of multiple myeloma, cancer has progressed to other parts of the body beyond just the plasma cells in your bone marrow. By this point, cancer has not responded to treatment, and the disease will eventually lead to death.
Note that this is not an official staging designation. Staging is a process that occurs in conjunction with diagnosis as a means of determining the progression of the cancer and its spread and severity. Staging is necessary to determine proper modes of treatment and typically ranges from stage I to stage III for multiple myeloma. The “final stage” of multiple myeloma simply refers to cancer that has become terminal.
With the final stages of multiple myeloma, you can typically expect all of the signs and symptoms to ramp up. Unlike the early stages of smoldering myeloma, everything is noticeable. Symptoms may spread to your kidneys as proteins created by the malignant plasma cells lead to kidney damage. Over time, your kidney function may fail altogether, which prevents them from properly filtering out body waste, excess salt, and unnecessary fluids.
You may also experience neurological symptoms. As mentioned, multiple myeloma can wear down and weaken bones. This includes bone material in your spine. Severe bone breakdown can result in your spine bones collapsing and pressing down on spinal nerves, a condition known as spinal cord compression. Along with severe back pain, this can lead to numbness and weakness in the legs and if left untreated, the damage can result in permanent paralysis.
In the final stages of multiple myeloma, your doctor may recommend treatments that can keep cancer under control, but many treatments can come with side effects or otherwise take a physical toll. Usually, by this point, your best option is palliative care, which helps to manage the symptoms of the disease.
Treating Multiple Myeloma
Can multiple myeloma be cured? Immediate treatment may not be necessary or helpful for people with smoldering multiple myeloma. While there is no known cure for active multiple myeloma, there is a wide range of treatments available that can effectively eliminate cancer cells and prevent them from replicating.
Targeted therapy is a common form of treatment for multiple myeloma. Targeted drug treatments look for specific genes, proteins, and tissue environments associated with cancer. This can help to identify and eliminate cancer without harming healthy tissues.
Immunotherapy is also a common choice of treatment. Your immune system can have trouble finding cancer cells. Many cancer cells have mechanisms that allow them to hide in plain sight. Immunotherapy works by boosting your natural immune system to better identify cancerous cells and properly dispose of them.
Surgery is typically not necessary or useful for multiple myeloma. Your doctor may recommend a bone marrow transplant. This involves removing all of your cancerous bone marrow and replacing it with stem cells that can regrow normal bone marrow tissue.
While multiple myeloma once had a poor outlook, the number of treatments available and better understanding of the disease has made for a significantly better outlook. Early diagnosis and the right treatment can prevent you from ever having to reach the final stages of multiple myeloma. Talk to your doctor to determine the best treatment option for your needs.
- Cancer.org. What Is Multiple Myeloma? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/multiple-myeloma/about/what-is-multiple-myeloma.html
- Cancer.org. Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/multiple-myeloma/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html
- My Myeloma Team. End-Stage Myeloma: What You Need To Know. https://www.mymyelomateam.com/resources/end-stage-myeloma-what-you-need-to-know
- Cancer.net. Multiple Myeloma: Types of Treatment. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/multiple-myeloma/types-treatment
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.