Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that occurs in plasma cells. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell that helps your body to fight germs. When people develop multiple myeloma, the plasma cells have mutations that cause them to grow abnormally. The cancer cells can quickly accumulate in the marrow of your bones. This accumulation can then crowd out your healthy cells, and the cancer cells can produce proteins that are abnormal and that may cause issues instead of producing antibodies that your body needs to fight off infections.
Not everyone who has multiple myeloma will need treatment, but there are multiple treatment options that are available for people who suffer from some of the symptoms of the disease.
Causes of Multiple Myeloma
The Mayo Clinic reports that the cause of multiple myeloma is unknown. The cancer starts with the development of one abnormal plasma cell. That cell then rapidly grows and divides, forming more cancer cells. Plasma cells are formed in the bone marrow, which is the soft tissue inside of your bones. The myeloma cells will grow rapidly enough to crowd out other healthy red and white blood cells. The abnormal cells will continue to attempt to make antibodies, but instead produce abnormal proteins that can cause kidney damage.
Signs and Symptoms
Some people who have multiple myeloma will not have any symptoms. Others may experience a variety of different symptoms, including the following:
- Bone pain that frequently occurs in the chest or spine
- Loss of appetite
- Mental confusion
- Weight loss
- Excessive thirst
- Numbness or weakness in the legs
- Frequent infections
Common Treatment Options
If you are diagnosed with multiple myeloma, your doctor will first determine the stage of your cancer. Stage 1 multiple myeloma may not require treatment if you do not experience any symptoms. If you have stage 2 or stage 3 multiple myeloma, your doctor may recommend a treatment regimen that includes one or more of the following treatments.
This treatment involves you taking a biologic medication that uses your body’s immune system to fight the myeloma cells. The drugs might include thalidomide, pomalidomide, or lenalidomide. The drugs work by strengthening the cells in your immune system that fight cancer cells, and the drugs are normally taken in pill form.
Targeted drugs are medications that target specific abnormal areas of cancer cells. These drugs may include ixazomib, carfilzomib, or bortezomib. The medications block the cells from breaking down proteins so that they die. Targeted medications may be administered intravenously or in pill form.
Corticosteroids fight myeloma cells and reduce inflammation. These medications may include prednisone or dexamethasone and may be taken in pill form or administered intravenously.
Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells that are quickly growing. You may be administered chemotherapy drugs intravenously or take them in pill form.
Radiation therapy involves the administration of energy beams to damage and kill your myeloma cells. This might be used if you have a collection of plasma cells that have formed into a tumor that is destroying a bone or causing you pain.
Bone Marrow Transplant
Stem cell transplants may be an option to replace your diseased bone marrow with healthy marrow. Before you receive a bone marrow transplant, you will first be administered high doses of chemotherapy. Stem cells that are used to form blood will be taken from your blood. After your diseased marrow is removed, the collected cells will be injected so that they can begin making new marrow that is free of disease.
There are some alternative treatments that might help you with some of the symptoms of multiple myeloma. These treatments should not be used in place of your prescribed medical treatments but may be used in addition to them. You will want to talk to your doctor about any alternative treatment that you want to try to make certain that it will be safe for you.
The Cancer Treatment Centers of America reports that the following alternative remedies may help you with some of the symptoms that you might experience.
Acupuncture has been used in China for thousands of years and involves the placement of small needles in specific areas of the body. It may help to reduce nausea that you might experience from your medical treatments.
Vitamin Complexes, Fatty Acids and Amino Acids
The Cancer Treatment Centers of America reports that you may be able to help to protect your nervous system from neuropathy by taking certain vitamin complexes, fatty acids, and amino acids. Naturopathic clinicians might also recommend certain amino acids and vitamins to help protect the muscles of your heart from damage.
If you have problems with constipation, your clinician might recommend that you try hydrotherapy as well as stool softeners.
The Mayo Clinic reports that several mind-body techniques may help to reduce the stress that you might feel during your cancer treatment. These might include such things as meditation, relaxation techniques, music therapy, and art therapy.
WebMD reports that you should eat a diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, but your doctor may want you to cook them, so you can lessen your risk of infection. You might also want to eat foods that are high in fiber to help to ease constipation. Your doctor may recommend that you avoid foods that could cause you to become sick, including runny eggs, raw fish or meat, sushi, unpasteurized drinks, and unwashed vegetables or fruit.
In general, your diet should include plenty of cooked fruits and vegetables, lean meats, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. You should avoid eating foods that are high in sugar and saturated fat.
The prognosis for people who are diagnosed with multiple myeloma will depend on the stage of their cancer and its aggressiveness. The median survival rate ranges from three to 10 years or more.
Getting a diagnosis of multiple myeloma can be frightening. If you are diagnosed with this type of cancer, make certain to follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations. You might also find that some of the alternative treatments might help you to manage your symptoms. Finally, making certain that you have a strong support system can help you to cope with your diagnosis.