Multiple myeloma – Diagnosis and treatment

Cancer of the plasma cells, multiple myeloma affects an individual when an abnormal cell in the bone marrow begins to multiply at a rapid pace. These rogue cells further produce harmful proteins that can cause damage to vital organs. In the early stages of this condition, the symptoms might be nonexistent. However, as the condition progresses, it might project symptoms such as fatigue, frequent infections, bone pain and weakness, numbness in legs, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, and excessive thirst.

Researchers haven’t been able to narrow down the cause of multiple myeloma, but it is strongly linked to monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), a condition that produces a low amount of abnormal proteins. Men, individuals above 60, people of African-American race, and people with a family history of this disease are more likely to develop multiple myeloma.

To diagnose multiple myeloma, the doctor will order for blood tests to determine the levels of M proteins and beta-2-microglobulin. These levels will also reveal the aggressiveness of this condition. Likewise, the blood will also be examined to check the uric acid levels, calcium levels, blood cell count, and kidney function. A urine exam might also be conducted to check the M proteins in the urine.

To test for any genetic abnormalities and how fast the abnormal cells are dividing, the doctor will use a specialized diagnostic test known as fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). The cell samples will be removed using bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. Likewise, imaging tests such as CT scan, PET (positron emission tomography), MRI, and X-rays might be recommended to understand the extent of complications such as bone damage caused by myeloma.

Treating multiple myeloma
If one has multiple myeloma but they aren’t experiencing any symptoms, they might not require treatment right away. However, the doctor will keep monitoring the condition with the help of blood and urine exams until the symptoms start showing. Once the patient starts developing the symptoms, they will be recommended with a combination of the following treatments:

  • Chemotherapy: To destroy the rapidly growing cells, chemotherapy drugs will be administered orally or intravenously. Usually, high levels of chemotherapy drugs are used before one undergoes a bone marrow transplant.
  • Biological therapy: This treatment enhances the immune system’s response and helps identify and kill rogue cells.
  • Targeted therapy: Unlike chemotherapy that kills both cancerous and healthy cells, targeted therapy aims to prevent the action of the substances in the cancer cells that break down proteins. This causes the cancerous cells to die.
  • Corticosteroids: To regulate the inflammation levels in the body, the doctor might prescribe corticosteroids. Moreover, these drugs also actively fight off the cancerous cells.
  • Radiation therapy: In this treatment, a potent form of X-rays and protons are used to destroy the cancer cells. It might be employed in cases where the cancer cells are forming a tumor in a particular area so that it can be quickly shriveled.
  • Bone marrow transplant: Also known as stem cell transplant, this procedure replaces the affected bone marrow with a healthy one. Before this surgery is conducted, doctors will administer high doses of chemotherapy drugs to damage the diseased bone marrow. Then, the stem cells are introduced in the body where they travel to the bones and start reconstructing the bone marrow.