About Myeloma

Background

In 1845, a patient with excruciating broken bone-like pain and heat soluble “animal matter” in the urine was studied. The disease responsible came to be known as multiple myeloma because of the bone tumors it spreads through legs, pelvis, back, skull, and elsewhere.

European cultures experience moderate rates of the disease while black decedents of African races are two to three times more likely to be afflicted. Asians suffer it least often. We also know that 60 percent of its victims will be men and that it usually emerges in mid- to late life.

An often harmless condition called monoclonal gammopathy of unclear significance always occurs first. About three percent of the time, MGUS, as it is universally known, becomes myeloma. Nobody knows how the disease selects those it strikes or why the other 97 percent escape it.

Whatever ethnicity or age – or length of time with MGUS – death usually followed the onset of myeloma within two or three years, until recently.

Though treatments have been developed over the past 150 years, no cure is known. But a complex process leading to prolonged, high quality survival has been developed and is being continuously improved.


A growing interest

The increasing number of survivors forces greater attention. Moreover, these people have demands. While their lives have been extended, they have not been cured. They are living on “death row," apprehensively waiting to see what happens next. They don’t like it. Neither do their loved ones.

Coincidentally, the drugs that are successfully extending the lives of myeloma patients also appear to be beneficial to several million people in treatment for other cancers. These patients will also press for more research into causes and treatments for myeloma-like blood and bone cancers, and for faster adaptation to effective treatments. Add more than 800,000 anxiety-ridden Americans with MGUS to increase the heat under an already boiling pot.

 

Causes

To read a condensed excerpt about the causes of multiple myeloma from Everyone's Guide to Cancer Therapy, go to tbafoundation.org/causes.html.

 



What is Myeloma?

Myeloma is literally an "oma," or tumor, involving the "myelo," or blood producing cells in the bone marrow.

The cells that are affected are plasma cells (a type of white blood cell), which are our antibody- (immunoglobulin-) producing cells. Myeloma is a cluster of these plasma cells that grow out of control and do harm by gathering together to form an over expansion within the marrow of the bones, as well as in other sites in the body. Over time, they group together and form tumors (or lesions) called plasmacytomas.

Myeloma is called "multiple" since there are frequently multiple patches or areas in bone where tumors or lesions have developed. A single lesion is called a solitary plasmacytoma.

In simplest terms, it's cancer of the bone marrow.

 

Current Picture

About 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with myeloma every year. This number is predictably proportional to the size of the U.S. population.

Myeloma accounts for one percent of all cancers and about two percent of cancer deaths in the United States, annually. Beginning about ten years ago, advances in cancer treatment, especially in disease-fighting drugs, created a growing population of myeloma survivors. Though their disease remains incurable, better treatments make myeloma more tolerable, longer.

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