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Multiple Myeloma; Get in the Know

He was in a car accident and hurt his back. At the hospital, he was found to have peculiar lesions on his spine. She noticed that she was getting more and more tired. When she finally sought help, she was very anemic. He noticed that he was urinating more and more but then it became less and less. Lab tests revealed he was in kidney failure. What did they all have in common? They all had Multiple Myeloma. And neither of them had ever heard of the disease. This seems to be an often occurrence.

In my experience as a nurse practitioner, 9 of 10 patients who are diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma had never heard of it until they were diagnosed. It does not have the name recognition of breast cancer or even the familiarity of leukemia. Maybe it is because this type of cancer is relatively uncommon. This is a good thing but it is still impacting many people! Maybe because the name of this cancer doesn’t give most people an idea of where it happens in the body as easily as say lung cancer does for example. Whatever the case, over 32,000 people will be diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma this year. When you add that number to the number of people diagnosed in the last three years, you are already at over 100,000 people. A large majority of the persons diagnosed will be black. Multiple Myeloma is the most common blood cancer among black people. The pre-myeloma condition known as monoclonal gammopathy of uncertain significance (MGUS) is more common in black people too.

What exactly is Multiple Myeloma? It is a pretty complicated cancer but I will break it down. We all have bone marrow (spongy tissue inside some of your bones) within our bones where parts of our blood cells are made. One particular type of blood cell is the white blood cell. The white blood cells help fight infection and are a part of your body’s immune (defense) system. There are many types of white blood cells such as B-cells (also known as B lymphocytes) and T-cells (T lymphocytes). Some B-cells turn into plasma cells. Plasma cells are the special cells that make a protein called antibodies. Antibodies are what help your body fight infection. Sometimes, the B-cell does not become a normal plasma cell and becomes a myeloma cell instead. These myeloma cells crowd the bone marrow causing problems for the person. Often symptoms are not evident but certain blood tests can lead to an early diagnosis.

When signs and symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • Bone pain, especially in your spine or chest

  • Nausea

  • Constipation

  • Loss of appetite

  • Mental fogginess or confusion

  • Fatigue

  • Frequent infections

  • Weight loss

  • Weakness or numbness in your legs

  • Excessive thirst

Eventually, a person may become anemic and his/her kidneys and bones may become affected.

There are no known causes of Multiple Myeloma. We do not know why it happens but there are the risk factors. Risk factors include:

  • Increasing age. Your risk of multiple myeloma increases as you age, with most people diagnosed in their mid-60s.

  • Male sex. Men are more likely to develop the disease than are women.

  • Black race. Black people are about twice as likely to develop multiple myeloma as are white people.

  • Family history of multiple myeloma. If a brother, sister, or parent has multiple myeloma, you have an increased risk of the disease.

  • Personal history of a monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS). Every year 1 percent of the people with MGUS in the United States develop multiple myeloma.

Treatment is available and could include a bone marrow transplant, corticosteroids, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted therapy. In some cases, no treatment is needed but monitoring is ongoing.

September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month. Though there are many types of blood cancers, there seems to be more of a knowledge deficit regarding Multiple Myeloma. Knowledge and awareness are essential to better take care of our health. If by reading this post, this is your first time learning about Multiple Myeloma, I hope you feel empowered.

For more information on Multiple Myeloma please visit:

Had you heard of Multiple Myeloma before now? What did you take away from the information provided? How can you share it with friends and family?

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