Multiple myeloma is a relatively rare cancer of the bone marrow. It results from the abnormal growth of plasma cells in the bone marrow. Plasma cells normally produce antibodies. As these abnormal or malignant plasma cells multiply, they produce enormous quantities of abnormal antibodies. These abnormal antibodies accumulate in the blood and urine. As the plasma cell tumor grows, it also destroys the surrounding bone. These events lead to bone pain, kidney damage, and a compromised immune system.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body (in this case plasma cells) divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed. A mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to
malignant tumors, which can invade nearby tissue and can spread to other parts of the body. A
does not invade or spread.
Low levels of other blood cells (white blood cells and platelets)
Elevated calcium levels (blood and urine)
Evidence of kidney damage and bone destruction
Once cancer is found, staging tests are performed to find out if the cancer has spread and, if so, to what extent. While treatment is sometimes capable of slowing the progression of the multiple myeloma, complete remission is rare. Treatment is also important for the control of symptoms. Treatment depends on your symptoms and the stage of your cancer.
is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given in many forms including: pill, injection, and via a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells.
The most common initial chemotherapeutic agents are
, or a three drug combination called VAD. When young patients develop myeloma, some oncologists feel they should first receive the VAD chemotherapy followed by a bone marrow transplant, if they have had a good response to the initial VAD.
Bone Marrow Transplant
The two types of bone marrow transplant used include an
Autologous transplant—is one where the patient’s bone marrow is stunned with very high doses of chemotherapy, and it recovers with infused stem cells.
Allogeneic transplant—is a more involved process requiring the donation of bone marrow cells from a donor (usually a first-degree relative). The bone marrow of the patient is stunned with very high doses of chemotherapy (and sometimes with low doses of radiation therapy) followed by the infusion of the donor’s cells into the blood of the patient. The stem cells then seek out the bone marrow and re-populate it.
Both techniques are potentially deadly and have significant side effects associated with them. However, these procedures (particularly the allogeneic transplant) are the only ones that have shown to result in a prolonged survival, or even a cure.
Immunomodulatory treatments help alter the way the myeloma cells live, and ultimately makes it difficult for them to survive, reproduce, and produce the proteins that cause secondary symptoms. Drugs used for this treatment include
, neovastat, and
Strong oral analgesics to relieve bone pain
If anemia is present, erythropoietin to increase the amount of red blood cells
and biphosphonate drugs to treat high calcium levels
Antibiotics to treat infections
Biphosphonates to protect bones from fractures and myeloma spreading
Radiation Therapy (Radiotherapy)
is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation is most often given to relieve bone pain, and by itself is not considered curative.
Surgery is done to remove a multiple myeloma tumor that causes pain or other debilitating symptoms, when radiation therapy is not considered feasible. Surgery is not curative.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a