What is multiple myeloma?
Multiple myeloma is a cancer that forms from plasma cells. Plasma cells are white blood cells found in bone marrow. These cells are a key part of the immune system. They make antibodies that fight infection.
Cancerous plasma cells grow quickly and take over the bone marrow by blocking healthy cells from doing their jobs. These cells make large amounts of abnormal proteins that travel throughout the body. They can be detected in the bloodstream.
The cancerous cells can also grow into tumors called plasmacytomas. This condition is called multiple myeloma when there are large numbers of the cells in the bone marrow (>10% of the cells), and other organs are involved.
Effects of multiple myeloma on the body
The growth of myeloma cells interferes with the production of normal plasma cells. This can cause several health complications. The organs most affected are the bones, blood, and kidneys.
Kidney failure in multiple myeloma is a complicated process that involves different processes and mechanisms. The way this happens is the abnormal proteins travel to the kidneys and deposit there, causing obstruction in the kidney tubules and altered filtering properties. Additionally, elevated calcium levels can cause crystals to form in the kidneys, which causes damage. Dehydration, and medications such as NSAIDS (Ibuprofen, naproxen) can also cause kidney damage.
In addition to kidney failure, below are some other common complications from multiple myeloma:
Approximately 85 percent of people diagnosed with multiple myeloma experience bone loss, according to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF). The most commonly affected bones are the spine, pelvis, and rib cage.
Cancerous cells in the bone marrow prevent normal cells from repairing lesions or soft spots that form in the bones. Decreased bone density can lead to fractures and spinal compression.
Malignant plasma cell production interferes with the production of normal red and white blood cells. Anemia occurs when the red blood cell count is low. It can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, and dizziness. About 60 percent of people with myeloma experience anemia, according to the MMRF.
Weak immune system
White blood cells fight infection in the body. They recognize and attack harmful germs that cause disease. Large numbers of cancerous plasma cells in the bone marrow result in low numbers of normal white blood cells. This leaves the body vulnerable to infection.
Abnormal antibodies produced by cancerous cells do not help to fight infection. And they can also overtake healthy antibodies, resulting in a weakened immune system.
Bone loss from myeloma causes an excess of calcium to be released into the bloodstream. People with bone tumors are at an increased risk of developing hypercalcemia.
Hypercalcemia can also be caused by overactive parathyroid glands. Untreated cases can lead to many different symptoms like coma or cardiac arrest.
Counteracting kidney failure
There are several ways that the kidneys can be kept healthy in people with myeloma, especially when the condition is caught early. Drugs called bisphosphonates, most commonly used to treat osteoporosis, can be taken to reduce bone damage and hypercalcemia. People can get fluid therapy to rehydrate the body, either orally or intravenously.
Anti-inflammatory drugs called glucocorticoids can reduce cell activity. And dialysis can take some of the strain off kidney function. Finally, the balance of drugs administered in chemotherapy can be adjusted so as not to further harm the kidneys.
Kidney failure is a common effect of multiple myeloma. Damage to the kidneys can be minimal when the condition is identified and treated in its early stages. Treatment options are available to help reverse kidney damage caused by the cancer.