General information about
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Multiple myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells (a type of white blood cell). For people who have the disease, multiple myeloma affects the part of the bone called bone marrow.
A relapse happens when multiple myeloma signs and symptoms return after a period of improvement. Refractory means that the myeloma either never initially responded or no longer responds to a certain treatment.
A multiple myeloma diagnosis is often given as a result of lab testing or diagnostic imaging performed for other reasons, such as a routine blood test.
Prior to diagnosis, people with multiple myeloma may experience a number of symptoms that lead them to seek medical attention. Some common symptoms of multiple myeloma are listed below. However, some people may not have any symptoms or their symptoms may be vague.
- Bone pain and broken bones
- Weakness and tiredness
- Frequent infections
- Nervous system problems, such as back pain, numbness and muscle weakness
Symptoms like these could be signs of other medical problems. Talk with your healthcare team about any questions you may have.
Bone marrow is the spongy inner part of your bone. Your blood is produced in your bone marrow, which is made up of many different types of cells, including red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma cells.
A closer look at bone marrow and blood cells:
Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell that normally help your body fight off infections by producing antibodies. People with multiple myeloma have cancerous plasma cells, also called myeloma cells, which replace normal cells and form tumours in bones. Occasionally, these tumours can also form in soft tissue areas of the body. Myeloma cells often produce large quantities of an abnormal antibody (referred to as M protein) and may also prevent bone marrow from making enough red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
Myeloma cells multiply uncontrollably and can build up in the bone marrow. When they do, they prevent bone marrow from making enough blood cells for the body to fight infection and other diseases. Myeloma cells (and the production of M protein from the myeloma cells) can lead to anaemia, bone damage and kidney impairment.
Even though treatment can reduce the number of myeloma cells in the body, there may be cells that remain or become resistant to treatment. Over time, these cells may start to increase and cause symptoms to come back, called a relapse. Most people will take several different treatments throughout their journey with multiple myeloma.
Help and support from charities
These charities can give you information, practical advice and support about living with myeloma: