A cancer diagnosis can be frightening. If you were recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma, you may find these to be the next steps.

What Is Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myeloma is a rare type of cancer that affects your blood’s plasma cells. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cells. These cells are responsible for recognizing invading germs and creating the antibodies that can attack and fight infection.

Multiple myeloma reduces the plasma cells’ ability to help fight infections. Eventually, cancer cells take over the bone marrow and crowd out healthy cells. Instead of producing much-needed antibodies, these cancer cells produce harmful or non-useful proteins. These proteins can cause kidney damage or other worsening symptoms.

Discover the methods used for categorizing multiple myeloma »

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myeloma does not always cause obvious signs and symptoms. This is especially true in the cancer’s earliest stages. Before it has progressed, multiple myeloma may cause no signs at all. And even when it has advanced, the signs and symptoms may be difficult to detect or identify.

The most common signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma include:

  • loss of appetite
  • increased thirst
  • weight loss
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • bone pain, most commonly in the spine or chest
  • weakness or loss of feeling and strength in your legs
  • frequent infections
  • kidney dysfunction
  • bone pain

How Is Multiple Myeloma Diagnosed?

Several tests and procedures can help your doctor diagnose multiple myeloma.

These include:

  • blood tests: Blood tests may reveal the presence of M proteins, a marker of multiple myeloma. A blood test may also reveal the presence of beta-2-microglobulin, another type of protein produced by myeloma cells. The levels at which these two proteins are present may give your doctor an understanding of how advanced your cancer is.

Additional blood tests may be needed to see if the cancer is affecting other parts of your body. These blood tests may check your kidney function, calcium levels, uric acid levels, and blood cell counts.

  • urine tests: A urine analysis can detect the presence of M proteins. In urine, these proteins are called Bence Jones proteins.
  • bone marrow examination: Myeloma cells divide and multiply in your bone marrow. To test for cancer cells, your doctor may want to remove a sample of your bone marrow. Lab tests can detect how quickly the cells are dividing and can give your doctor an idea of how advanced the cancer is.
  • imaging tests: Imaging tests such as an X-ray, MRI, CT, or PET scan can help your doctor detect bone problems caused by multiple myeloma.

What Are the Stages of Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myeloma can be classified in three stages: stage 1, stage 2, or stage 3.

Stage 1 is a less-aggressive disease. The myeloma may still be confined to bone marrow at this point. Stage 3 is a very aggressive disease, and the cancer has likely begun to affect bones, kidneys, and other organs.

In addition to a cancer stage, your myeloma will be assigned a risk category. A risk number indicates how aggressive the cancer is.

Together, these two numbers can help your doctor understand the types of treatments that will work best for you. It will also help you understand your outlook.

How Is Multiple Myeloma Treated?

Unlike most cancers, multiple myeloma isn’t always treated right away. If the cancer isn’t causing any signs or symptoms, your doctor may decide not to treat you. However, once problematic symptoms develop, your doctor may suggest one of several types of treatment.

Standard multiple myeloma treatment options include:

  • biological therapy: Biological therapy medicines use your body’s immune system to fight the myeloma cells. This therapy is also referred to as immunotherapy and frequently includes interferon.
  • targeted therapy: Targeted drugs block specific abnormalities within the cancer cells. Medications targeting these abnormalities can then destroy the cancer cells while limiting the damage to normal plasma cells.
  • chemotherapy: A traditional cancer treatment, chemotherapy kills cancer cells. Chemotherapy is often used in conjunction with other treatments.
  • bone marrow transplant: A bone marrow transplant is a procedure that destroys your diseased bone marrow with high doses of chemotherapy and then replaces it with cancer-free, healthy bone marrow. The replaced bone marrow will include stem cells from your healthy marrow or the marrow from another person.
  • corticosteroids: Corticosteroids are often used to fight inflammation in the body, but they are also used to fight against myeloma cancer cells.
  • radiation: Radiation uses targeted beams of energy to destroy cancer cells and prevent them from dividing. Radiation is used to treat specific small areas affected by multiple myeloma.

What Is the Prognosis for Patients with Multiple Myeloma?

Outlook and survival rates are based on previous outcomes of people with multiple myeloma. However, they can’t truly predict what will happen with you. Many factors influence your prognosis. These factors include your general health, your age, the treatments you choose to use, how well the cancer responds to treatment, and any alternative treatments you decide to try.

Remember that all estimates are just educated guesses. Talk with your doctor about your situation to get a better idea of your specific outlook.

StageExpected Survival
Stage 162 months
Stage 244 months
Stage 329 months

According to the National Cancer Institute, 44.9 percent of patients survive five years or more after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

Life After a Diagnosis

A cancer diagnosis can be upsetting and shocking. You’ll experience times of stress and fatigue along with periods of relief. Don’t be afraid to seek help from medical professionals and other people with myeloma.

Many support organizations can help you find ways to cope. Contact your hospital and ask for information on cancer or myeloma support groups. You and your family can benefit from speaking with others who have experienced the same journey you’re now taking.