Information about the blood cancer multiple myeloma.
What is multiple myeloma?
Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer that is due to abnormal plasma cells developing in the bone marrow. Plasma cells are normally found in the bone marrow in small numbers. Their main role is to help fight infection by producing antibodies which then travel in the blood to help fight viral or bacterial infections.
Who can be affected by multiple myeloma?
Multiple myeloma is more common in older people over 60 years of age. It is rare in people under 40 years.
Can I pass multiple myeloma on to my children?
Multiple myeloma is not inherited or passed on to children.
Anything that can increase your risk is called a risk factor. Having one or more of these risk factors does not mean that you will develop multiple myeloma. Even if you have no risk factors you can still develop multiple myeloma.
Although the causes of multiple myeloma are not fully understood, there are a number of factors associated with the risk of developing the disease. These factors include:
- Increasing age
- A family history of multiple myeloma
- History of a solitary plasmacytoma of bone increases your risk of multiple myeloma (a plasmacytoma is a tumour of bone that involves the same cells as multiple myeloma)
Signs and Symptoms
Not all people with multiple myeloma will have symptoms.
Symptoms and signs that are related to disease in the bone marrow could include:
- Bone pain in back, ribs and hips
- Shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- Feeling thirsty
- Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
- Repeated infections or slow to recover from infections
It is important that if you have any of these symptoms lasting for two weeks or more, or if the symptoms are new, unusual or getting worse, then you should get them checked by your doctor as soon as possible.
Multiple myeloma can be diagnosed with blood tests, x-rays and a bone marrow biopsy.
Your treatment will depend on your age and general health. Treatment can include oral therapy (tablets) which you can take at home with intermittent subcutaneous injections, chemotherapy (medicines to destroy cancer cells) and blood stem cell transplants.
A blood stem cell transplant involves using high dose chemotherapy and then rescuing the bone marrow (blood factory) function. A blood stem cell transplant can increase the time until the disease comes back and prolong life. However not all multiple myeloma patients are well enough to have this intensive treatment.