Introduction to Myeloma
Myeloma is a type of bone marrow cancer. Bone marrow is a spongy substance located in the centre of some bones, and its normal function is to produce blood cells.
What is Myeloma?
Myeloma is a type of bone marrow cancer. Bone marrow is a spongy substance located in the centre of some bones, and its normal function is to produce blood cells. Myeloma is relatively uncommon, affecting around 5000 people in the UK each year. The majority of those affected are over 60 years of age, with the condition being more common in men. There is currently no cure for the condition, but treatment can manage the symptoms for several years. If you think you may be experiencing symptoms associating with the condition, please see an oncologist or GP.
What causes Myeloma?
Myeloma is a cancer and is therefore caused by genetic changes in bone marrow cells. The exact reason why some people develop the disease is not well understood, but it is likely that certain environmental factors play a role, in combination with an underlying genetic susceptibility.
Myeloma is tightly associated with another condition known as monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance (MGUS). Each year, around 1 in 100 of those affected by MGUS will go on to develop myeloma. Other risk factors for myeloma include old age and ethnicity, with black populations being at a greater risk of developing the disease.
What are the symptoms of Myeloma?
Early stage myeloma is usually symptomless. As the disease progresses, you may experience a dull ache in your bones. The disruption of blood cell production may result in anaemia, causing you to feel tired and short of breath. Furthermore, as the production of certain immune cells is disrupted, you may become more susceptible to infection.
How is Myeloma treated?
Myeloma treatment usually takes a multifaceted approach. The main aims are typically to bring the disease under control by killing the cancerous myeloma cells in the bone marrow, to treat exacerbations of the condition, and to manage symptoms such as bone pain. The exact treatment strategy taken should be a joint decision between yourself and the team of doctors around you.
To bring the disease under control, chemotherapy is common. This involves taking tablets that aim to kill myeloma cells. Chemotherapy is associated with several side effects including nausea, hair loss and increased risk of infection. Corticosteroids may be used to increase the efficiency of chemotherapy. Other drugs used to control the disease include thalidomide and bortezomib. If you have decided to take an intensive therapy strategy, a stem cell transplant will probably be required to help your bone marrow recover. Treatment aims to bring you into remission; a temporary end to the symptoms of your disease. However, the condition is likely to return in the future, and this happens, treatment will likely need to resume.
In addition to addressing the bone marrow itself, treatment aims to relieve some of the symptoms of the disease. Painkillers are an important part of therapy, reducing bone pain. Bisphosphonates may be used to prevent bone breakdown, and blood transfusions may be useful in addressing anaemia.