At Baylor Scott & White Greater Dallas Orthopaedics, we are regional experts in the treatment of both malignant and benign bone and soft tissue tumors. However, in this article, we’ll be discussing a form of cancer we address that stands out from the crowd. Multiple myeloma is a cancer found in blood caused by plasma cells multiplying abnormally, directly impacting bone marrow, bones themselves, and then the other surrounding organs of the body. A rare form of cancer, over 32,000 individuals in the US were treated for it in 2019, and experts estimate that roughly 100,000 individuals in the US currently have this disease.
As we mentioned, this particular cancer is unique among those we discuss at Baylor Scott & White Greater Dallas Orthopaedics because it exists within blood and directly impacts bone, rather than being a true sarcoma. However, it does directly harm the strength and resiliency of bone.
Multiple myeloma is a form of blood cancer that occurs when plasma cells multiply in an abnormal way. In particular, they build up in the bone marrow of a particular bone, take up a growing amount of space that should be occupied by healthy blood cells, and begin to damage the bone. They also trigger other cells to begin attacking the healthy cells of the bone, further damaging the stability and strength of the bone in question.
Slow growing and without a clear cure, myeloma can ultimately be released from the affected bone via a break and begin impacting the surrounding organs. Because it is slow growing, doctors often take a monitoring approach before beginning a treatment plan in earnest.
While doctors do know where myeloma originates – with a single plasma cell in the bone marrow of an individual – the underlying cause for myeloma isn’t known. From that single cancerous plasma cell, the myeloma slowly begins to overwhelm healthy cells, ultimately leading to bone weakness and susceptibility to easy fractures. From there, myeloma begins to affect other bones are areas of the body.
Like most cancers treated at Baylor Scott & White Greater Dallas Orthopaedics, myeloma disproportionately impacts people of advanced age, typically over the age of 60. Also, a commonality with other cancers a family history with myeloma is another risk factor that should be top of mind.
Myeloma also impacts more men than women and more African-Americans than those of other races. The reason for these disparities is not fully known.
Myeloma can be difficult to detect early in its development, and in some cases when it is detected early an individual’s doctor will opt to monitor it closely rather than taking immediate action. This is especially true if no symptoms are presenting themselves.
Many of the symptoms of myeloma are shared by other cancers found in blood, such as nausea, constipation, fatigue, and weight loss. It’s also common to see extreme thirst and confusion in those suffering from myeloma.
Insofar as it impacts bones and bone health, myeloma can cause bone & joint pain, followed by bone weakness, and ultimately fractures caused by little stress. Areas particularly prone to bone pain include the chest and spine.
Like sarcomas, if myeloma develops for an extended period of time, susceptibility to blood disorders, infections, and kidney damage is possible.
Unlike many other sarcomas we’ve discussed in the GDO blog, since myeloma is a cancer of the blood, surgical intervention isn’t used to treat the cancer itself. It is, however, utilized as needed to treat affected areas of weakened/damaged bones and joints. Radiation therapy is also utilized to kill the cancer cells within the bone and strengthen weakened bones.
When treating myeloma itself, chemotherapy is often utilized, as are other medication-based treatment plans, depending on the severity of the myeloma. At present, there is active research being undertaken to uncover new medications to treat myeloma. However, as we said previously if the myeloma is not particularly advanced, it’s not uncommon for a physician to recommend monitoring check-ins rather than taking a more overt treatment approach.
We hope this overview of multiple myeloma was insightful and enlightening. The team at Baylor Scott & White Greater Dallas Orthopaedics places a high value on informing our audience and improving the medical literacy of all we impact.
As always, the content of a blog post is no substitute for a legitimate medical diagnosis. If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be suffering from a bone or soft tissue tumor, prioritize an appointment with a qualified medical professional at your earliest availability.