Healthcare/Multiple Myeloma


What is multiple myeloma?

Multiple myeloma (MM) is a cancer that affects the bone and the marrow within. Literally translated the name "multiple myeloma" means "a number of marrow swellings". In it, a special developed form of the lymphocyte (one of the white cells) called the plasma cell becomes not only abnormal but increases in number, causing areas of the bone to be eaten away. Healthy individuals also have plasma cells but these are normal and also not so many. What normal plasma cells do is to secrete substances into the blood that assist the white cells to fight against infections e.g. by bacteria. In MM, the abnormal plasma cells secrete the abnormal form of these substances which can also get through urine and cause many bad effects.

Who gets multiple myeloma?
It often affects individuals who are more than 40 years old. It is also known to be commoner in people of African descent as compared to other races. What causes multiple myeloma? Nobody knows. However, contact with certain chemicals, industrial wastes and solvents as well radiation increase an individual’s chances of developing the disease. Chronic viral infections as well as an individual’s own immune reactivity have all been implicated.

How is multiple myeloma proven in hospital?

As with all diseases, the doctor first asks a number of questions, then feels the body for the disease, then takes samples for tests in the laboratory. In multiple myeloma the three most important tests are bone marrow to demonstrate the increased plasma cells, X-rays of the bones to show the "eaten bits" and screening of the blood to show the abnormal secretions of the plasma cells. Others test are done to determine the extent of damage especially to the kidneys. How is multiple myeloma treated? With strong drugs aimed at killing the bad cells. Radiotherapy is also used. Sometimes both radiotherapy and drugs are used. Attention is also paid to the kidneys and patients are encouraged to drink at least 3L of water per day. An initial course of treatment usually lasts 6-18 months depending on which treatment as well as the response