Multiple myeloma, a disease often referred to as plasmocytoma or Kahler’s disease is a malignant disorder affecting plasma cells, causing them to multiply uncontrollably inside the bone marrow. These new, pathologically altered plasma cells are producing products of the antibodies or only tiny segments of them – so called paraproteins. These antibodies are falling into a single group (for an example IgA), being labeled as monoclonal proteins. The production of paraproteins prevents appearance of other normal antibodies, which makes the patient much more prone towards infections. The growth of healthy blood making cells in the bone marrow is reduced. Lack of healthy red and white blood cells begins with exhaustion, weakness, headache and an increased tendency towards infections.
Multiplication of the myeloma cells inside the bone marrow, their interaction with stroma (which is the supporting tissue of organs or tumors) – as well as activation of the immunological cells brings towards an increased effect of osteoclasts; these cells are reducing the bone mass and causing bone defects which can lead towards fractures and pains. With the destruction of bone tissue, calcium releases into the blood stream. An increased concentration of calcium in the blood leads to a whole list of complications such as kidney damage, exhaustion, disturbances in the heart rhythm, noxiousness and vomiting.
Are there any typical symptoms?
Despite the fact that this is a serious condition, it doesn’t show much of specific symptoms. It can be present for ages without showing any typical signs of diseases and symptoms which are mentioned here are apparent after many years into the condition. Until today, the beginning and specific cause of this condition, as well as its progress over the years haven’t been closely determined.
In the beginning, as mentioned, most patients won’t experience any types of symptoms. As the disease progresses, some non-characteristic symptoms such as reduction of fitness, exhaustion, weakness as well as loss of appetite, vomiting and weight loss may occur. In an advanced stage of the condition there are more prominent symptoms to speak of.
Bone pain usually begins slowly and gradually increases in intensity. Sudden, sharp pain is typical for bone breaking in the spine, ribs and all other long bones. A high concentration of calcium in the blood; caused by osteoblasts, increases calcium excretion through urine and the overall amount of it – which may cause dehydration to occur. In about 20% of patient it’s necessary to calculate a reduced kidney function into the equation, due to the damaged kidney channels.
Symptoms caused by a disturbance of the blood analysis depends on the number of the tumor altered cells. First, a disturbance of maturing of the red blood cells begins, with symptoms of anemia following shortly after – paleness, weakness, exhaustion, headache, lack of air etc.
As the disease progresses, the reduction in number of leucocytes and thrombocytes will make it easier for infections to nestle in. In about 25% of patients these infections are mostly caused by bacteria. In the early phases of the disease most common are respiratory system infections. Typical complications in the advanced phase of the illness are infections of the urinary system. Also, with a lack of thrombocytes there is a tendency towards bleeding. Typical nose or menstrual bleeding is most common.
In a small number of patients pathological changes of the nervous system might be more obvious. If the nerves hit are affected only within extremities, lightning pain and loss of sensation may become a problem. Only in rare cases this might cause complete paralysis, loss of sensation or incontinence.
Life expectancy and how to assess the prognosis
In average, patients diagnosed with multiple myeloma are expected to live from 3 to 5 years. Still, these are all average values and the expected life span may prove to be significantly longer. According to the European cancer register, only about a third of all patients suffering from multiple myeloma make it past five years.
Multiple myeloma is not contagious, and it’s also important to know that this is not a hereditary disease in its full meaning. Even though family members from the first generation might have higher risk from this condition, it’s definitely not something to take for granted.
In terms of prognosis itself, it’s important to realize that even though two diagnoses might be equal with two patients, the progress of the illness and all possible types of therapy can be very different. While the statistic is extremely important for the prognosis, it’s necessary nod to make a critical error and overestimate its value or precision. A lot of people can assess their diagnosis in a completely wrong way, interpreting it in such way where there is no help.
The term known as life expectancy is only the average summary, which means that half of patients will go over the maximum life expectancy rate. The group of patients who reach the expected life expectancy also includes those patients who might have been cured, so in principle, they have a normal life expectancy. Furthermore, results of studies are related only towards previous cases. Because of this, all data which is being accumulated before a certain date haven’t been taken into close consideration.
Every individual will have a different reaction towards medication and all other treatment methods. According to this, any type of prognosis, for an example 3 years, may be a specifically determined number for this one individual. There is no replacement to this and it is impossible to provide you with a universal answer. Multiple myeloma is an extremely complex condition which spans across multiple body symptoms and it’s impossible to simply state that this is the shortest or this is the longest expected life term.
Therefore, individual counseling and testing done on an individual basis is your only way to have a precise estimate of your life expectancy as well as any other factors that might be of your interest. Consult the issue with your doctor, don’t trust everything you read online as this simply isn’t something you want to do when it’s the case about multiple myeloma.