• What is myeloma?

Myeloma is a form of low grade lymphoma, arising from plasma cells.

Plasma cells are a group of white cells which are concerned with producing antibodies to protect the body against various infections. When the plasma cells proliferate rapidly and abnormally, they produce abnormal antibodies and this condition is called myeloma.

  • What happens in myeloma?

Since the plasma cells become cancerous, they do not form normal immunoglobulins. Immunoglobulins are antibodies which protect against infections. Hence, patients with myeloma are more prone for infections.

Again, some abnormal substances secreted by these cells in the bone marrow cause erosion of the bones. So the bones become weak and in many people holes can be formed in many bones. These bones can break easily causing various problems such as pain, fracture etc. The growth of myeloma in vertebral bones can cause serious symptoms be compressing the spinal cord.

  • What are the symptoms of myeloma?

The symptoms of myeloma are varied.

Mainly people present with bone pains, which can be back pain. Some times they present with spontaneous fractures.

Some patients have severe anemia.

Some of them present with loss of appetite, mental changes, kidney failure etc due to increased calcium levels and also due to increased levels of paraprotein (myeloma protein, which is the abnormal immunoglobulin secreted by plasma cells)

  • How is myeloma treated?

The principles of treatment of myeloma is similar to treatment of low grade lymphomas (see section on low grade lymphomas). However, in addition to the chemotherapy, treatment to strengthen the bones, and boost the immunity are additional modalities, used.

Chemotherapy can be given in the form of tablets or injections. Many patients (not all) can benefit from autologous stem cell transplants. As mentioned in the section of low grade lymphomas, a proportion of young patients can be completely cured with non myeloablative transplants.

  • What is the life expectancy of people diagnosed with myeloma?

Usually the severity of the disease is assessed by scoring system. Your doctor will tell you whether you fall into the good, intermediate or bad risk. Depending on the risk the treatment may be modified. Generally the people with good risk can have longer survival of 7-10 years with therapy.

  • What are the precautions a patient with myeloma has to take?

Since these patients are prone for infections, they have to report to the doctor at the earliest evidence of infection, such as fever. Patients with low immunoglobulins are benefited by regular monthly immunoglobulins.

They have to be extremely careful in guarding themselves against any fractures. Since, even a slightest injury can produce fractures, they have to guard themselves against any injury.

Any new symptom such as bone pain occurring in a new site, weakness noticed in legs etc should be notified to the doctor immediately.

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