Myeloma is also known as multiple myeloma or myelomatosis. Blood cells look and work differently, but they all repair and reproduce themselves in the same way. Normally, new cells are produced to replace old, worn-out cells in an orderly, controlled way. However, in myeloma the process gets out of control and large numbers of abnormal plasma cells, myeloma cells, are produced. These fill up the bone marrow and interfere with production of normal white cells, red cells and platelets. Myeloma cells usually produce a large number of one type of abnormal antibody. This is known as Para protein and cannot fight infection effectively and often reduces the production of normal antibodies.
The Myeloma cells have the ability to spread throughout the bone marrow and into the hard outer casing of the bone. Several or many areas of the bone may be affected. Myeloma can cause thinning of the outer bone and pain.
Myeloma usually affects middle aged and older people. It is usually before the age of 50 and very rare in people younger than 40. Although the causes of myeloma are unknown, like other cancers it is not infectious and cannot be passed on to other people.
- Back pain - as it commonly affects the bone of the spine
- Becoming shorter - is common in some people
- Pain in other bones such as the ribs, skull or pelvis
- Excessive tiredness and lethargy due to lack of red blood cells in blood (anaemia)
- Kidney problems caused by Para proteins produced by myeloma cells. Kidney damage can increase tiredness and anaemia Repeated colds, coughs and other infections - due to shortage of normal antibodies
- Weakening of bones - increase the risk of fractures
- Loss of appetite, feeling sick, constipation, depression and drowsiness caused by too much calcium in the blood released from damaged bones
- Unexplained bruising and abnormal bleeding (nose bleeds/bleeding gums)
- Pins and needles, numbness, tingling or weakness in the feet or legs
- Difficulty passing urine or opening bowels.
Any of these symptoms could mean that a myeloma tumour is pressing on the spinal cord (cord compression). Contact your doctor immediately if you think that this may be happening to you. Myeloma is rarely curable, but it is treatable. Treatment can be very effective at controlling symptoms and stopping the development of the disease. Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy are a couple of treatments used for myeloma, there are several others.