Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects the plasma cells in the blood. The condition is progressive and is often fatal within 3 years of diagnosis. Multiple myeloma affects the plasma cells in the blood stream, the cells which are responsible for producing antibodies to protect the body from infection. The condition causes the development and growth of a large number of abnormal plasma cells in the bone marrow. These abnormal plasma cells are unable to function properly and have the ability to reproduce rapidly, crowding out healthy blood cells and weakening the body’s natural defenses. Multiple myeloma can also spread throughout the body and affect other organs, causing damage and decreasing the organ’s effectiveness.
It is estimated that 5 out of every 100,000 individuals in the United States will develop multiple myeloma within their lifetime. There are nearly 15,000 new cases of the condition diagnosed annually and there are around 50,000 individuals living with the condition in the United States today. Multiple myeloma is the second most common cancer in the world, representing 1% of all diagnosed cases of cancer and 2% of all cancer deaths. Individuals are typically diagnosed with the condition around the age of 68 with less than 1% of diagnosed cases occurring in individuals under the age of 40. Men are affected by the condition with more frequency than women and the risk of developing the condition is slightly higher for those of African-American heritage.
Multiple myeloma generally presents no symptoms at onset and a large percentage of individuals are diagnosed with the condition before any symptoms of the condition have appeared. Some cases of multiple myeloma are discovered after the results of a routine blood test indicate abnormal blood cell levels in the circulatory system. When symptoms do appear, they are generally mild and can be confused with the symptoms of a wide variety of less serious illnesses. As the condition progresses, more severe signs of the condition may develop. Individuals who have developed multiple myeloma may experience hypercalcemia, renal damage, anemia, and an increased risk of contracting an infection. Multiple myeloma also causes damage to the bones, weakening them and causing osteoporosis. This bone damage can be detected primarily in the ribs, skull, pelvis, and spine of an affected individual.
Multiple myeloma is considered incurable, but there are many different treatment options that can help an individual manage the condition and retain their quality of life. Although the average survival rate for the condition is only 3 years, there are several new treatments available that may help individuals live for a longer amount of time and improve their health to a reasonable degree. The reason why some individuals develop multiple myeloma is still unknown, but some possible risk factors have been identified as contributors to the development of the condition. Researchers have pinpointed a number of physical, genetic, and environmental factors that may increase an individual’s risk of developing the condition, including exposure to carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene and exposure to radiation, but the exact cause of the condition remains unknown.