My Friend Has Multiple Myeloma

Recently, I was talking to a friend who has multiple myeloma. He is 80 years old and was diagnosed with it 3 years ago. He is doing well. And because there is progress being made in the treatment of multiple myeloma, there is good reason for optimism. Overall survival of multiple myeloma patients has increased markedly.

“In 1971, about half of people diagnosed with multiple myeloma died within twenty-four months, and the other half died by the tenth year. In 2008, about half of all myeloma patients treated with the shifting armamentarium of new drugs will still be alive at five years. If the survival trends continue, the other half will continue to be alive well beyond ten years.” *

Multiple meloma accounts for about 1% of all malignancies and is a disease of older people. Most people diagnosed with the disease are 65 years or older.

In multiple myeloma there is overgrowth of abnormal plasma cells in the bone marrow and these abnormal cells secrete an abnormal protein (called a monclonal protein)  present in the blood and/or the urine.

The disease is diagnosed when an abnormal protein  in the blood or urine is found along with an abnormal percent of plasma cells found on bone marrow biopsy.

Multiple myeloma can cause anemia, kidney dysfunction, bone problems (bone pain, osteoporosis, and pathologic fractures), elevated serum calcium, and increased risk of serious infection.

Sometimes the disease is diagnosed before any serious problems occur when an abnormal monoclonal protein is found on a serum or urine electrophoresis ordered for another reason.

For a  complete discussion of the treatment of multiple myeloma, please see the New England Journal of Medicine article “Multiple Myeloma,” N Engl J Med 2011;364:1046-60.

The treatment of multiple myeloma is complex but effective and getting better all the time.  My friend with multiple myeloma is doing well.

*Quote from The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. c2010, Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD

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