Multiple myeloma causes bone, immune system and kidney problems

Today, it seems like everyone knows someone who has experienced cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 39 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime. The most common types include skin, lung, prostate, breast and colorectal cancer. There are also cancers that can affect your blood, such as multiple myeloma. This disease affects about one in 143 Americans, and more than 30,000 cases are diagnosed each year in the United States.

Multiple myeloma develops in the plasma cells and causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is the spongy tissue found in the interior of bones. Normal plasma cells are found in the bone marrow and are an important part of the immune system, because they make antibodies that help the body attack and kill germs. When plasma cells become cancerous and grow out of control, they can produce a tumor called a plasmacytoma. If people have more than one plasmacytoma, they have multiple myeloma.

Multiple myeloma is characterized by several features, including a low blood count, weakened immune system, bone and calcium problems, and kidney problems.

Low red blood cell counts can lead to anemia, causing paleness, weakness and fatigue. Calcium issues weaken the bones, so bone fractures and breaks are common. Due to kidney problems, those with multiple myeloma may experience extreme thirst and frequent urination, dehydration, severe constipation and abdominal pain. Nervous system symptoms, such as sudden and severe back pain, numbness, dizziness and muscle aches can also occur.

The exact cause of multiple myeloma is not known, but this disease can be linked to genetic abnormalities or environmental exposures. Some individuals are at higher risk for multiple myeloma, including people older than 65, men, blacks, those who are overweight or obese, those with a family history of multiple myeloma or other plasma cell diseases, and people who have been exposed to high levels of radiation.

To diagnose multiple myeloma, a physician will run a series of tests, including bone marrow count tests, bone marrow biopsies and bone X-rays. A doctor may also order a CAT scan or MRI. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, and stem-cell transplants can also be used to treat multiple myeloma. A stem-cell transplant replaces the damaged bone marrow with healthy stem cells.

The goals of treatment are to eliminate cancerous cells, control tumor growth and pain, and allow patients to live an active life. There is no cure, but this cancer can be managed in many patients for years.

Although some patients with multiple myeloma show no symptoms, others may experience broken bones, loss of appetite, dehydration, aches and pain, dizziness and fever. If you are experiencing a combination of these symptoms, visit your physician immediately.

Dr. Monty Metcalfe is with KentuckyOne Health Hematology and Oncology Associates.