Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells, a type of white blood cells crucial for the production of antibodies. Plasma cells are a component of the immune system, and they are produced in the bone marrow, from which they are transported to various parts of the body through the lymphatic system.
Also known as 'plasma cell myeloma' or 'myeloma', this cancer is characterized by the production of abnormal plasma cells, called myeloma cells. The myeloma cells collect in the bone marrow, and then gradually damage the bones. This condition is classified into three stages - stage I, stage II, and stage III.
This cancer is usually classified into two types, which are known as the asymptomatic and symptomatic multiple myeloma. As the name suggests, asymptomatic multiple myeloma is characterized by the absence of symptoms. On the other hand, symptomatic multiple myeloma is known to produce a few symptoms.
Multiple Myeloma Causes and Symptoms
What exactly causes the production of abnormal plasma cells in the body is not known, though certain factors are thought to increase the risk of developing this condition. Advancing age, being a man, being African-American and Asian American, and a family or a personal history of 'Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance (MGUS)' are some of the most important risk factors for this cancer.
This cancer can affect several parts of the body, including the bones, kidneys, red blood cells, and the immune system. The most common signs and symptoms of this condition are, bone pain, especially in the back, ribs, skull, and the pelvis, the presence of abnormal proteins in the body, known as M-protein (produced by the abnormal plasma cells), excessive thirst and urination, loss of appetite, weight loss, bone fractures, excessive weakness or tiredness, a high level of calcium in blood, constipation, nausea, and frequent infections and fever.
Multiple Myeloma Life Expectancy
As mentioned already, this disease is classified into three stages - stage I, stage II, and stage III. Earlier, staging was done on the basis of Durie-Salmon staging system. This staging system is still in operation in many places. However, in the year 2005, the International Myeloma Working Group came up with the Internal Staging System. This staging system is based on the value of serum albumin and serum beta-2 microglobulin. On the basis of these two values, this cancer is divided into three stages, which are explained below.
When the value of beta-2 microglobulin is less than 3.5 mg/L, but that of serum albumin is greater than 3.5 mg/L, the cancer is considered to be in the first stage. In the first stage, only a few cancerous cells spread throughout the body. The level of calcium in the blood, as well as the count of red blood cells are usually normal.
In this stage, the cancer may not exhibit any symptoms. The myeloma cancer life expectancy or median survival time for stage I is about 62 months, though each case of multiple myeloma is different and the life expectancy depends on many factors, including the age and overall health of an individual, and how well a person responds to cancer treatment.
When the beta-2 microglobulin level is less than 3.5 mg/L or between 3.5 to 5.5 mg/L, and the serum albumin level is less than 3.5 mg/L, the cancer is considered to be in the stage II. A moderate number of myeloma cells spread throughout the body by the time the disease progresses to the second stage. The median survival time for this stage is approximately 44 months, which however, can vary from one individual to another depending on certain factors, as already mentioned in this article.
Stage III is characterized by the presence of a large number of cancer cells throughout the body. In this stage, the value of beta-2 microglobulin is greater than 5.5 mg/L. In the third stage, the number of red blood cells decreases, and the level of calcium in blood increases significantly. Moreover, bone tumors can be detected in this stage. A high level of M-protein can also be observed in blood or urine. The median life expectancy for stage III is about 29 months.
The treatment of this condition depends to a great extent on the stage in which it is detected. Usually, the disease is treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and biological therapy. Chemotherapy uses some specific drugs to kill the cancerous cells. There are several chemotherapy drugs that are used for the treatment of this cancer. The choice of a particular drug depends on several factors, including the stage.
Radiation therapy, on the other hand, employs high energy radiation or waves to destroy the cancerous cells, while biological therapy is used to stimulate and direct the immune system to fight the disease. Biological therapy is also known as immunotherapy. Apart from these, surgery and bone marrow transplant can also be used to treat multiple myeloma.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.