The Early Signs of Multiple Myeloma
Cancer can appear anywhere in the human body, including the bloodstream. And when cancer arrives in your blood, it can be particularly dangerous. One of these potentially deadly cancers is called multiple myeloma. This cancer develops when infection-fighting white blood cells start getting outnumbered by unwanted myeloma proteins.
Anyone can be diagnosed with this disease, but people over the age of 65 are most vulnerable. Since there isn’t a cure for multiple myeloma, you need to know about this cancer. You should be aware of the warning signs and various treatments associated with multiple myeloma.
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What Are The Early Signs And Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma?
There are a number of symptoms that are related to multiple myeloma. Loss of appetite and weight loss can often occur. Nausea, constipation and excessive thirst are also known symptoms. These factors can lead to fatigue and mental fogginess.
Bone pain is another symptom. Patients feel this especially in their spine or chest, and weakness in the legs is another related discomfort. There are additional complications that can occur because of multiple myeloma such as broken and thinning bones.
However, some individuals won’t have any symptoms at all. Multiple myeloma can strike without any noticeable changes to your health. And you might live with it for some time without realizing.
Doctors will sometimes discover multiple myeloma, often during a routine blood test, before their patient is showing symptoms. But without the help of your doctor catching this disease, there’s a chance patients won’t know about their condition until they reach a more serious stage that’s harder to treat.
How Is Multiple Myeloma Diagnosed?
There is no special testing or screening for multiple myeloma. Doctors can detect this cancer through blood tests.
If it isn’t immediately obvious through a routine blood test, then doctors may look at other changes in your health. Questionable kidney function, calcium levels and more data from the blood test can signal the possibility of multiple myeloma.
Urine testing, bone marrow exams and image tests are further steps often taken towards a multiple myeloma diagnosis.
In these tests, finding an M protein is a major red flag. They appear when plasma cells, a type of white blood cell that helps fight infection, abnormally produces the M protein. This poses a threat when the M protein starts to outnumber the amount of normal blood cells inside the bone marrow.
There are four stages of multiple myeloma a patient can be diagnosed with, depending on the level of severity:
This is when the M protein is present in the body, but the person isn’t showing any symptoms.
Stage one is when a patient has a small number of M cells in the blood and urine and starts to display minor symptoms.
X-rays are able to detect more apparent bone damage caused by the cancer and there are a greater number of myeloma cells found in test results.
The final and most severe stage of diagnosis is when a high number of M cells are found and bones are increasingly damaged. At this point, calcium levels are excessively high. The pathway of treatment will depend on the doctor’s expertise and patient’s diagnosis level.
What Are The Treatment Options For Multiple Myeloma?
While there isn’t a cure for multiple myeloma, there are a number of treatments that continue to help patients extend their lifespan and quality of life. If you are diagnosed before showing symptoms, your doctor might wait until you do to start treatment.
Treatment options depend on which stage your multiple myeloma is diagnosed in. People still in the smoldering stage of multiple myeloma won’t necessarily be given treatment right away. The doctor will likely monitor the condition closely through blood and urine tests until they decide it’s time to begin treatment.
Fortunately, there are a number of treatments for this type of cancer. Common therapies you’ve probably heard of are chemotherapy and radiation, which work to shrink and kill the M cells quickly. Chemotherapy is when the patient is dosed with strong medicine through an IV or pill form. Radiation therapy uses beams of energy to stop growth.
Instead of tackling the myeloma cells head on, there’s another treatment that tries to kickstart the immune system to fight them off itself. The patient consumes a pill, such as a Thalomid or Revlimid, for this biological approach.
An intensive form of therapy is a bone marrow transplant. The purpose is to replace the damaged bone marrow with healthy tissues. Before this happens, doctors must first collect blood-forming stem cells from the patient and destroy their existing sick bone marrow. The stem cells are then placed in the body to eventually help grow new bone marrow.
Depending on the patient’s condition, the doctor will have to decide which treatment is best suitable. They will likely start with a less invasive option or a combination of them before considering a bone marrow transplant.
Stay On Top Of Your Health To Catch Multiple Myeloma
Cancer is scary, but staying properly informed of the symptoms and warning signs can make you feel more at ease. The good news is multiple myeloma is a rare form of cancer that affects less than one percent of Americans.
Routine blood tests and visits with your doctor are the best ways to stay informed on your health. This also increases your chances of discovering the disease early on, even before symptoms start to show.