Multiple myeloma is a rare type of cancer that develops in plasma cells. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell in the body. In a healthy body, plasma cells are responsible for recognizing and fighting off invading germs and infections.
Cancer cells eventually overtake the healthy plasma cells in people with multiple myeloma. This process depletes your body of much-needed white blood cells. As the ratio of cancerous cells to healthy cells grows, so do symptoms of the cancer.
When you’re diagnosed with multiple myeloma, your doctor will want to determine how advanced the cancer is. Cancer is classified by stage 1, 2, or 3. In multiple myeloma cases, stage 3 is the terminal stage. In other words, it’s the most advanced stage of this type of rare cancer.
Your doctor will run several tests to diagnose multiple myeloma. These tests look for and detect many signs of the disease that can’t be seen with the eye.
Test results will reveal the following if you have advanced stage multiple myeloma:
- high levels of blood calcium
- high levels of M protein in the blood or urine (M proteins are produced by the abnormal cancer cells.)
- advanced bone damage
- moderate to severe anemia
In addition to the results of tests, your doctor will conduct a thorough medial review to understand the signs and symptoms you’re experiencing. These can help them understand how advanced the cancer is. This is especially true with multiple myeloma, because early stages of the cancer often don’t cause any noticeable signs.
Symptoms of this late-stage cancer include:
- frequent infections
- weight loss
- muscle weakness
- increased thirst
- decreased appetite
Early stages of the cancer may not need immediate treatment. However, late stages often need treatment immediately. That’s because the prognosis for late-stage multiple myeloma isn’t very lengthy.
Treatment for stage 3 multiple myeloma aims to reduce the discomfort caused by the cancer. Treatment can also help stabilize the cancer and slow the progress of its growth.
Treatments for multiple myeloma include the following:
Also known as biological therapies, these medicines are designed to help turn your body’s immune system into a cancer-fighting tool. They include lenalidomide (Revlimid), thalidomide (Thalomid), and pomalidomide (Pomalyst).
These medicines are a part of a treatment called targeted therapy. They hone in on specific abnormalities in the multiple myeloma cancer cells that allow the cancer to survive and prevent them from growing and thriving. This causes the myeloma cells to eventually die. Examples of this medication include carfilzomib (Kyprolis) and bortezomib (Velcade).
A standard cancer treatment, chemotherapy seeks out and destroys the cancer cells in your body. Chemotherapeutic agents that specifically treat multiple myeloma include doxorubicin hydrochloride (Doxil, Adriamycin) and aklylator agents.
These medications are often used to boost and regulate the immune system and control inflammation. However, they also show promise as a multiple myeloma treatment. Corticosteroids include prednisone (Deltasone) and dexamethasone (Decadron).
Stem Cell Transplants
A stem cell transplant is designed to replace your cancer-laden bone marrow with healthy, cancer-free marrow. However, you may have to undergo high-dose chemotherapy prior to the transplant.
Combination Treatment Regimens
You may take a combination of several myeloma treatments. For example: an immunomodulatory drug, a protease inhibitor, and a corticosteroid. This treatment approach shows promise and may have greater success than one type of treatment alone
Unfortunately, a cure for multiple myeloma currently doesn’t exist. However, significant research is making progressive leaps toward a treatment that eliminates the cancer entirely. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several new types of treatments in recent years. Today’s treatments are getting closer to a cure.
According to the American Cancer Society, the survival rate for people with stage 3 multiple myeloma is 29 months. Stage 3 multiple myeloma is an advanced stage cancer, the outlook isn’t long. However, significant medical advances are helping, and researchers are anxious to find new treatment methods that can prolong the survival rate.
The median survival rate is not every patient’s survival rate. Some will live much longer and some won’t. Several factors affect your survival rate, including:
- age: Older patients with multiple myeloma don’t live as long as younger patients with the cancer.
- cells’ growth rate: How fast your cancer cells are growing can tell your doctor a lot about your prognosis. Cells that grow rapidly will accumulate faster. This leads to a poorer outlook.
- kidney function: Multiple myeloma cancer cells will eventually cause damage to your kidneys. Your prognosis will be worse if your kidneys were unhealthy prior to your diagnosis, or if the cancer’s impact on them is greater than expected.
- genes: Your bone marrow may hold the secret to your prognosis. Certain chromosome changes or abnormalities may predict a poorer outcome.
Once you have been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, you’ll likely receive a team of doctors, including an oncologist. An oncologist is a type of doctor who specializes in treating cancer. They can help you wade through the information, numbers, possibilities, and realities. Together, you can find a treatment plan that maintains an aggressive approach to treating the cancer while maintaining a sense of control for you. It’s important that you always feel as if you have a say in your treatment, and your oncologist can help you find that path.