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Multiple Myeloma

About

Multiple myeloma, also known as myeloma, is a type of bone marrow cancer.

Bone marrow is the spongy tissue found at the centre of some bones. It produces the body's blood cells. Multiple myeloma affects the plasma cells (a type of blood cell) inside the bone marrow.

Myeloma does not usually take the form of a lump or tumour. Instead, the myeloma cells divide and expand within the bone marrow, damaging the bones and affecting the production of healthy blood cells.

Myeloma often affects many places in the body, which is why it is called multiple myeloma. Commonly affected areas include the spine, skull, pelvis and ribs.

Signs and symptoms

In the early stages, myeloma may not cause any symptoms. It's often only suspected or diagnosed after a routine blood or urine test.

However, myeloma will eventually cause a wide range of problems, including:

  • a persistent dull ache or specific areas of tenderness in your bones
  • weak bones that break (fracture) easily
  • tiredness, weakness and shortness of breath (caused by anaemia)
  • repeated infections
  • less commonly, bruising and unusual bleeding – such as frequent nosebleeds, bleeding gums and heavy periods

Read more about the symptoms of multiple myeloma.

When to see your GP

See your GP if you have any of the above symptoms. While they're unlikely to be caused by cancer, it's best to get a proper diagnosis.

Your GP will examine you to check for bone tenderness, bleeding, signs of infection, and any other symptoms that suggest you may have myeloma.

They may also arrange blood and urine tests that can detect abnormal proteins produced by myeloma cells.

If myeloma is suspected, you will be referred to a consultant haematologist (a specialist in blood conditions) for further tests and treatment.

Read more about diagnosing multiple myeloma.

Who is affected?

Multiple myeloma is an uncommon type of cancer, with around 4,800 new cases diagnosed each year in the UK.

It's not known exactly what causes the condition, although it's more common in:

  • people with monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance (MGUS) – an excess number of protein molecules called immunoglobulins in your blood
  • men
  • adults over 60 – most cases are diagnosed at around the age of 70, and cases affecting people under the age of 40 are rare
  • black people – multiple myeloma is about twice as common in black populations compared with white and Asian populations

Read more about the causes of multiple myeloma.

How multiple myeloma is treated

There is currently no cure for multiple myeloma, but treatment can often help control it for several years.

Treatment will often involve:

  • a combination of anti-myeloma medications to destroy the myeloma cells
  • medicines and procedures to prevent and treat problems caused by myeloma, such as bone pain, fractures and anaemia
  • anti-myeloma medicines to control the cancer when it comes back (relapses)

As part of your treatment, you may be asked if you want to take part in a clinical trial to help researchers develop better treatments for multiple myeloma.

Read more about treating multiple myeloma.

Outlook

The outlook for multiple myeloma is improving all the time, but the condition still can't be completely cured. Research is ongoing to try to find new and better treatments.

As with other types of cancer, the outlook depends on things such as your age and general health. Some people may live less than a year, while others may live 20 years or more.

Overall, about 77 in every 100 people will live at least a year, 47 in every 100 will live at least five years, and 33 in every 100 will live at least 10 years.

Support groups

If you've been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, you may find it useful to contact a local or national support group, such as Myeloma UK.

Support groups can offer more information and advice. They can also often put you in touch with other people in a similar situation so you can share advice and talk about your experiences.

The Myeloma UK website has more information about how they can help you and finding a local support group.

Further information on multiple myeloma

Information Prescription Service

To access the Information Prescription Service and the national cancer information pathway for multiple myeloma please click on the link below. Then click on 'Specialist information from our charity partners'

www.nhs.uk

Macmillan Cancer Support Website

www.macmillan.org.uk

Cancer Research UK Website

www.cancerresearchuk.org

Further Information

Visit or phone a local cancer information centre

There are several cancer information and support centres in Essex Cancer Network where anyone affected by cancer can be sure of a warm welcome and high quality, accurate, evidence-based information:

Basildon Hospital Macmillan Info and Support Centre, Outpatients Dept, Basildon Hospital, staffed Monday 2pm - Friday 12.30pm,tel: 0845 155 3111 extension 4908

Macmillan Info and Support Centre,Essex County Hospital, Outpatients Dept, Monday - Friday office hours, tel: 01206 747474

Information Resource Service, St Luke's House, Corringham,Thurrock, Monday to Friday office hours, tel: 01375 648170

Lantern Suite, Farleigh Hospice,Chelmsford, Monday to Friday office hours, tel: 01245 457418

Hospice Outreach Project Information Bus, Farleigh Hospice, covers the Chelmsford area. Contact Farleigh Hospice as above

For more information, please contact the service direct.

 

Visit your local library in Essex Cancer Network

Essex, Southend and Thurrock library services have worked in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support and the Essex Cancer Network to establish collections of quality assured information books and pamphlets about cancer. These can be accessed at any library: just ask. Additionally some staff at libraries have been trained to help patients use the Information Prescription Service.

Contact Macmillan Cancer Support Helplines

If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just someone to talk to, call free, Monday to Friday 9am - 8pm (interpretation service available) tel: 0808 808 0000

For financial queries tel: 0808 808 2232

 

Remember: Stay safe online when looking for support!

Internet chat rooms and message forums can be valuable sources of support and comfort, enabling you to meet others in the same position. However, there is potential for abuse - please read these guidelines before you set off to explore...

Click here to download the draft guidelines

 

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