Multiple Myeloma Risk Factors, Complications, and Diagnosis

Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that forms in plasma, a type of white blood cell. Plasma helps in fighting infections by producing antibodies to recognize and attack germs. Multiple myeloma accumulates in the bone marrow by crowding out healthy blood cells. As a result, rather than producing antibodies, bone marrow produces malignant cells with abnormal proteins causing complications. Three percent of people in the U.S., older than 50-years old, suffer from a condition called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS). The condition is marked by the presence of M proteins which eventually leads to multiple myeloma.

The following risk factors increase the risk of developing multiple myeloma:

  • Age
    The risk of suffering from multiple myeloma increases with age, as most people are diagnosed with myeloma in their 60s
  • Gender
    Recent cases have revealed that men are more likely develop multiple myeloma than women
  • Genetics
    The risk of suffering from multiple myeloma increases if a family member has been diagnosed with the same.
  • MGUS
    Almost one percent of people suffering from monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance develop multiple myeloma.

It is still unclear how multiple myeloma develops. However, oncologists know that malignant cells don’t age and degenerate as normal cells do. As a result, they block the body immunity causing fatigue and the inability to fight infections. This may cause following complications:

  • Low blood cell count (anemia)
    As discussed above, since myeloma cells crowd out normal cells, they cause reduction in the red blood cells. This makes the patent anemic.
  • Bone problems
    Multiple myeloma affects the bones causing bone pain, bone thinning and broken bones.
  • Frequent infections
    Since malignant cells start multiplying at a faster pace, the number of immunity-providing white blood cells reduce in number. This inhibits the body’s ability to fight infections.
  • Reduced kidney function
    This type of malignancy (cancer) causes problems with the kidney. Multiple myeloma increases the calcium levels in the body which interferes with the kidney’s ability to filter waste.

While there are no specific signs and symptoms related to multiple myeloma, advanced stages of this form of cancer can cause symptoms such as bone pain, mental fogginess or confusion, frequent infection, weight loss, weakness or numbness in legs, and excessive thirst. If a doctor suspects particular symptom of multiple myeloma, they might ask the patient to undergo certain diagnostic tests. Some of them are mentioned below:

  • Blood tests
    Doctors will send patient’s blood sample for laboratory analysis to see if M-proteins produced by multiple myeloma are present. They are called beta-2-microglobulin, which give doctors a clue about the aggressiveness of myeloma. Additionally, the blood sample will also examine other factors such as blood cell count, kidney function, and uric acid levels.
  • Bone marrow examination
    This procedure involves removing bone marrow by inserting long needle in the bone. The collected bone marrow is then sent for biopsy. The bone marrow undergoes testing such as fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) which checks for malignancy at genetic level. These tests also measure the rate at which melanoma cells are dividing.
  • Imaging tests
    Tests such as X-ray, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) , Computer Tomography (CT) helps in detecting bone problems that might be assisted with multiple myeloma. These Imaging tests help in evaluating the extent of spread of cancer.