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Multiple myeloma, also known as myeloma, is a type of blood cancer. In multiple myeloma, the normal plasma cells of your bone marrow undergo a malignant (cancerous) transformation. When plasma cells become cancerous and grow out of control they can compromise your immune system and produce tumors that can weaken your bones. Fortunately, multiple myeloma is a relatively rare cancer and there are many methods for treating the disease.
Multiple Myeloma Symptoms
Although some patients with multiple myeloma have no symptoms, others complain of bone issues including pain in the back, hips or skull. Other bone and calcium-related symptoms include osteoporosis, frequent broken bones and spinal cord compression. Myeloma creates a shortage of blood cells and blood platelets which in turn may cause even minor scrapes and cuts to bleed profusely. These low blood counts can also cause anemia and overall weakness. Nervous system abnormalities including nerve damage and hyperviscosity (blood thickening) are also telltale signs of the disease. Patients with myeloma are prone to getting infections including pneumonia and developing kidney damage.
Risk Factors for Multiple Myeloma
- African Americans
- Men age 65 or older
- Radiation exposure
- Family history
- Having other plasma cell diseases such as Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance (MGUS)
Types of Multiple Myeloma
Myeloma can be subclassified into groups and related conditions. While not all types require treatment, they all require regular check-ups to monitor whether the disease is progressing.
- Group A – Normal kidney function
- Group B – Abnormal kidney function
- Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance (MGUS) – A precancerous condition that can develop into multiple myeloma
- Asymptomatic (Smoldering/Indolent) Myeloma –Having a greater number of myeloma cells than a person with MGUS. Asymptomatic myeloma can be stable for many months or years, but it ultimately tends to progress.
- Symptomatic (Active) Myeloma – Overt cancer
How Multiple Myeloma is Diagnosed
The multidisciplinary specialists at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson and the Jefferson Sarcoma and Bone Tumor Center work as a team to confirm your diagnosis. Our thorough process begins with a discussion about your symptoms and a review of your medical history followed by a physical exam. If your symptoms suggest you might have multiple myeloma, we’ll order lab tests to measure your blood chemistry. A series of diagnostic imaging tests including bone densitometry, DEXA scans and nuclear medicine scans will provide us with detailed pictures of your bones. Multiple myeloma can be confirmed through bone marrow tissue biopsies that detect plasma levels and other tissue component abnormalities.
If you think you may be at an increased risk of developing multiple myeloma due to your family’s genetics, the Jefferson's Clinical Cancer Genetics Service will provide genetic risk assessment, genetic counseling and genetic testing.
When you or a loved one is diagnosed with multiple myeloma, you want the best physicians, the latest treatments and state-of-the-art technologies. That is exactly what you’ll find at Jefferson. Our orthopedic surgeons, radiologist, pathologists, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists will carefully guide you through available treatment options based on your myeloma’s stage plus various treatment effectiveness and possible side effects.
Your personal treatment plan often includes an integrated approach using multiple techniques, including:
- Chemotherapy – Using anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells
- Intensity-modulated Radiation Therapy – Also called IMRT, this therapy uses external energy to kill cancer cells
- Brachytherapy – Inserting radioactive implants directly into the tissue to kill cancer cells
- Bone Marrow or Stem Cell Transplant – The Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson is home to Jefferson's Blood and Marrow Transplant Program. In addition to autologous transplantation, where patients receive their own cells, patients can be treated using matched related donors, half-matched related donors or compatible unrelated donors.
- Surgery – Removing the entire tumor, if possible, and some of the surrounding tissue. In many cases, doctors can remove the tumor, leaving the bone intact or grafting bone from another area of the body. In the vast majority of cases, Jefferson doctors are able to perform limb-salvage surgery so that our patients can continue to maintain their lifestyles.
- Alternative Therapy – Treatment designed to stimulate or restore the ability of the body's natural immune system to fight infection and disease. Marcus Institute of Integrative Health incorporates complementary, biologic and alternative medicine therapies into the healing approach.
Why Choose Jefferson for Multiple Myeloma?
The Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson is your Philadelphia area resource for nationally-recognized oncology expertise. We’re ranked as one of the nation’s best hospitals for cancer treatment U.S.News & World Report, and we’re one of only 69 National Cancer Institute NCI-designated Cancer Centers in the U.S.
In addition to being a BlueCross/Blue Shield Blue Distinction Center for complex and rare cancers based on our surgical case volume, our world-renowned researchers are pioneering new approaches to cancer treatments and designing effective cancer prevention strategies.
At Jefferson, we not only offer our patients best-in-class multiple myeloma medical services, our compassionate care includes a support program to meet your emotional and psychological needs, too.
Clinical trials are the best way patients can receive new therapies and procedures. To find out if a clinical trial might be right for you, ask your health care provider or contact the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center Clinical Research Management Office at 215-955-1661.
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Call 1-800-JEFF-NOW (1-800-533-3669) to speak with a JEFF NOW® representative who will schedule an appointment for you.