What is Multiple Myeloma?
Multiple Myeloma (MM) is a cancer of the immune system that occurs in the white blood cells that compose plasma. While it is a common blood cancer, MM accounts for only about 1-2% of all new cancer cases each year.
The immune system is composed of several types of cells, there for the purpose of fighting infections and foreign substances in the body. The main cell types are the lymphocytes, which are composed of the T cells and the B cells.
When an infection threatens your body, the B cells mature and transform themselves into plasma cells. In turn, these plasma cells produce antibodies—specifically known as immunoglobulins—which will kill the germs that entered your body.
The lymphocytes are located in several areas of your body such as lymph nodes, bone marrow, intestines, and bloodstream. In contrast, the plasma cells are mainly found and reside in the bone marrow. When the number of these plasma cells increases drastically in an unregulated manner, they produce a tumor which is called plasmacytoma. In general it develops in a bone; however, rarely, it could also be found in other tissues. If a patient has only one plasma cell tumor, it is called an isolated (or solitary) plasmacytoma. However, if he has more than one plasmacytoma, then the patient is said to have multiple myeloma.
The disease is very notorious in involving other systems of your body. It affects the bone marrow, blood, kidneys, bones, and your immune systems. Consequently, the multiple myeloma survival rate of patients suffering from this disease is very low because a number of complications set in.
To diagnose the disease, three findings need to be established: (1) plasmacytosis, (2) lytic lesions, and (3) the presence of M component in the blood or in the urine.
The principal management of this disease is the use of chemotherapy which could be in the form of melphalan, cyclophosphamide, or chlorambucil and prednisone. But due to its least side effects, cyclophosphamide is preferred over the others. In addition, symptomatic supportive care is provided, such as treating the anemia, the bone pain, and the high calcium level in the blood.
The cause of Multiple Myeloma is still unknown up to the present time. However, there were indications that those exposed to radiation during the war had a higher frequency of contracting the disease.
There are indications, too, that the disease has a familial predisposition. That is if one member of your family had the disease, very likely other members would have the disease, too. It is also observed that the causation of the disease is related and linked to particular occupations. Farmers, woodworkers, leather workers, and those exposed to petroleum products have a higher frequency of contracting the disease than those belonging to other forms of employment.
The occurrence of multiple myeloma is correlated with age. As you grow older, your probability of contracting the disease grows higher. Although the disease is rare below 40 years old, it is higher among those over 68. Slightly, males are more prone to have the disease compared to the females; blacks are twice afflicted with it compared to the whites.