The Different Stages of Multiple Myeloma & What to Expect

Getting a cancer diagnosis is a common fear in our time.  In the case of multiple myeloma, although there is no cure yet, there are treatments that may extend your life several years, and can assist in keeping up your quality of life.

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Multiple myeloma affects thousands of people worldwide and is the second most common cancer of the blood, next to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Multiple Myeloma forms in a type of white blood cell called plasma cells.  Normally, plasma cells are found in the soft insides of your bones called marrow. In a healthy individual, plasma cells help fight infections by making antibodies that recognize and attack germs.  In a person with multiple myeloma, plasma cells become cancerous cells and begin to crowd out healthy plasma cells, which may begin to erode the hard bone area around the marrow making the individual susceptible to bone lesions among other symptoms.

People suffering from multiple myeloma may be asymptomatic or exhibit any of the following symptoms:

Blood thickening
Nerve damage
Skin lesions
Enlarged tongue (macroglossia)
Bone tenderness or pain
Weakness or tiredness
Pathologic bone fractures
Spinal cord compression
Kidney failure

How is multiple myeloma diagnosed?
People suspected to have multiple myeloma usually undergo the following tests to receive a definite diagnosis:

Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy- A sample is taken from the pelvis bone.  The cells from the marrow are studied by a pathologist to determine if there are abnormal types or numbers of cells.
Cytogenetic testing – The bone marrow aspirate is also studied for more detailed characteristics such as the presence or absence of abnormal numbers or types of chromosomes
Blood testing and urine testing by several methods can determine levels and types of monoclonal protein (M protein), protein produced by cancerous plasma cells.