Multiple myeloma symptoms are related to how this type of cancer affects the body. It invades the part of your white blood cells, the plasma cell. These are the cells that produce antibodies to help you fight off infections. It is found in the bone marrow and grows into the spaces where healthy cells should grow. Multiple myeloma shuts down the plasma cells’ ability to produce antibodies to infection and causes them to make harmful proteins. These proteins can affect the kidneys.
Even though it is a type of cancer, most often if you don’t have any symptoms, you won’t need to be treated. Recognizing the symptoms will help you get treatment early. This article will help you understand what the symptoms are and what you need to do about them.
What Does Multiple Myeloma Do to Your Body?
Cancerous cells are different from normal healthy cells. Healthy cells grow, do their job, and then are shed by the body. Cancer cells grow, invade the body, and are not shed. Multiple myeloma cancer cells grow inside the bone marrow and take up the space where normal healthy cells should grow. They also tend to grow faster than normal cells and can cause the symptoms of multiple myeloma. You won’t have enough cells that produce antibodies and too much of the abnormal cells that make kidney harming proteins.
Multiple Myeloma Symptoms
It is common for people with the disease to have no symptoms at all. If they do have symptoms, they include:
1. Bone Symptoms
- Bone Pain - Bone pain can occur in any bone in the body. It often starts in the cranial bones (head), hip bones, or the back.
- Bone Fractures - Bones that become weak may break more easily. Even minor injuries can fracture a bone, or breaks may occur during surgery or routine procedures.
- Weaker Bones - You may experience early osteoporosis or get weak bones in the area of a plasmacytoma.
2. Blood Symptoms
- Low White Blood Cell Count - Your body is not able to produce the right amount of white blood cells. This can cause an increased risk for infections.
- Low Red Blood Cell Count - You are at higher risk for anemia. You may feel dizzy, weak, not be able to tolerate exercise, and short of breath.
- Low Platelets - Platelets help your blood to clot so wounds can heal. You may develop low platelets and bleeding problems when you cut or bruise yourself.
- High Calcium - Your calcium levels may go too high. Calcium keeps bones strong and is also an important electrolyte. You may feel extra thirsty, constipated, pee more often, suffer from dehydration, get kidney stones, and have abdominal pain. High calcium levels need immediate treatment or you could experience coma or cardiac arrest.
- Thicker Blood to the Brain - The proteins from multiple myeloma may cause your blood to be too thick. This can affect blood flow to your brain and cause confusion, slurred speech, dizziness, and stroke like symptoms (one sided weakness).
3. Nervous System Symptoms
- Spinal Nerve Issues - You may develop problems with the nerves in your spine. Weak bones may cause the bones to break down and pinch the nerves.
- Weak Legs - You may find your legs weak and have trouble walking due to nerve issues.
- Back Pain - You may feel back pain, not only from weaker bones, but also from nerve compression.
- Numbness in the Lower Body - Pinched nerves may cause your legs and feet to feel numb.
- Kidney Symptoms
- Itching - The proteins may cause kidney damage. One of the first signs is itching because the kidneys are unable to filter out toxins.
- Swollen Legs - If the kidneys are unable to remove fluids from the body due to damage, you may begin to notice swelling in your legs.
- Weakness - Weakness may generally be related to this type of cancer, but can also be due to kidney damage and the buildup of waste in your system.
- Shortness of Breath - Shortness of breath may be a symptom of the anemia that goes along with this type of cancer, but it can also be due to the kidney damage and buildup of fluid in the lungs.
5. Immune System Symptoms
- Slow Healing - You may notice that wounds heal slower and you recover from illness slower. This is because there are not enough healthy antibodies to fight off infections that you get. It takes longer to get better with multiple myeloma.
- Increased Infections- You may get sick more often than normal. You may experience infections back to back. For example; you may get bacterial infections after you suffer from a virus, or you may catch everything that everyone around you has.
- Chronic Pneumonia - It may seem like every time you get sick, you come down with pneumonia. Or, you may catch pneumonia from a lack of activity due to the fatigue from this type of cancer.
How Can It Be Treated?
If you do not have any multiple myeloma symptoms, treatment is not usually necessary. Your doctor may watch you closely to make sure your condition do not get worse. They keep track by checking your urine and blood for the damaging proteins.
If you begin to develop symptoms or signs of damage to your body, your doctor may start treatment. The treatments for multiple myeloma include:
- Corticosteroids - The doctor may try a round of steroids first to help reduce the action of the abnormal cells and lower inflammation. If the disease is very active, you may receive the steroids via intravenous administration. For moderate cases, oral forms of steroids are given.
- Radiation - You may need to have radiation treatments to stop the cancer cells from growing. Radiation can shrink the cancer and prevent them from invading other areas.
- Chemotherapy - They may use chemotherapy to help kill off cancer cells quickly, or to stall growth prior to doing stem cell transplants (See Below).
- Stem Cell Transplants - You will have stem cells removed from your blood to be stored for later use. Then they give you chemotherapy to stall the growth of the cancer and wipe out any bone marrow that is not healthy. Your stem cells are then reintroduced to your body to grow new healthy bone marrow.
- Targeted Therapies - These drugs target abnormal cells and their functions in your body. Targeted therapies stops and affects the actions on proteins in the body and kills off the diseased cells.
- Biological Therapies - These types of therapies help increase the action of your own immune system to fight the abnormal cells.
What Is the Prognosis & Survival Rate for Multiple Myeloma?
When determining the prognosis for multiple myeloma, your doctor will look at your symptoms, the stage of the cancer, and any health issues you are having. It depends on the stage of the cancer and if it has caused any damage to your body. If you do not have any multiple myeloma symptoms, the five year survival rate is around 49 percent.