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What is Multiple Myeloma?
Multiple myeloma is a cancer that occurs when plasma cells (white blood cells) become abnormal and multiply rapidly. This causes them to interfere with the production of normal blood cells.
The plasma cells make an abnormal protein that is sent into the blood and urine. In the blood, these proteins are called monoclonal proteins (M proteins) or paraproteins. In the urine, they are called Bence Jones proteins.
If these proteins build up in large amounts, the kidneys may have trouble processing all of the protein. This may cause the kidneys to stop working as well as they should. Multiple myeloma cells also can eat away at areas of bone, putting these bones at higher risk of fracture.
Multiple Myeloma Causes
The exact cause of multiple myeloma is not known and no avoidable risk factors have been found. In 2015, an estimated 124,733 people in the United States were living with this disease. Although its exact cause is unknown, this type of cancer can be controlled in most patients, sometimes for many years. However, certain things appear to make you more likely to develop multiple myeloma.
Risk factors for multiple myeloma:
- Age: Over 65
- Gender: Men are slightly more likely to develop multiple myeloma.
- Race: African-Americans are twice as likely as white Americans to develop multiple myeloma.
- Radiation exposure
- Family history: If a parent, brother or sister has the disease, your risk is four times higher. However, this is rare.
- Working in oil-related industry: While some studies suggest this, it has not been proven.
- Other plasma cell diseases: If you have had one of the following you are at higher risk:
- A precancerous condition called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS)
- A single tumor of plasma cells (solitary plasmacytoma)
Learn more about multiple myeloma:
Why choose MD Anderson for your multiple myeloma treatment?
Many times, treatment for multiple myeloma may continue for extended periods, with repeated remissions and recurrences. For this reason, our teams of experts, including specially trained support professionals, forge close medical relationships with you to be sure you receive personal, customized care. This individualized attention gives you the best chance of a full and healthy life.
MD Anderson has been instrumental in some of the biggest advances in multiple myeloma treatment, including Revlimid® (lenalidomide), a derivative of thalidomide. It is one of the most important discoveries in multiple myeloma therapy in recent years. We've also found that combining this drug with chemotherapy drugs often has a profound effect on multiple myeloma, even after other treatments have failed.
At MD Anderson, you benefit from one of the most active research programs in the United States, which includes a prestigious federally funded SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence) program. This means we are able to offer a wide range of clinical trials (research studies) for every stage of multiple myeloma.
Cancer, after all, is a battle, and a positive attitude and hope are crucial weapons. So far, I win!
Multiple Myeloma Moon Shot
MD Anderson’s High-Risk Multiple Myeloma Moon Shot® aims to rapidly and dramatically improve the disease’s survival rates and reduce suffering through earlier intervention, research and new treatments.Learn more about the Multiple Myeloma Moon Shot
What do you do when your body doesn’t respond to physical training in the same way it did just a few years ago? How do you react if you feel pain in your rib cage, yet X-rays show no fractures?
These are some of the questions I was asking myself in 2013. Early that year, I was training for a two-day, 150-mile cycling event, but it didn’t seem like I was getting any stronger.
Throughout the summer and fall, I’d also been experiencing rib pain, and I suffered a sharp back pain while helping a friend move furniture.
My multiple myeloma diagnosis
The rib pain was initially diagnosed as costochondritis, a cartilage disorder that can cause significant discomfort around the sternum. I’d had a weak back for years, so muscle strains and back pain were nothing new. I chalked them up to getting older.
Still, this pain was a little different, and by the end of November 2013, I’d had enough. I was tired and in nearly constant pain. Blood tests showed moderate anemia and high levels of protein, but were otherwise inconclusive. My doctor ordered more extensive blood tests.
While waiting for the results, I started looking online for potential causes of my symptoms. One was multiple myeloma, a rare cancer that typically affects men in their 60s. Only about 1% of patients are younger than 40 when diagnosed. Since I was only 38 at the time, I figured my odds of having multiple myeloma were similar to my odds of winning the lottery.
Exceptional diagnosis calls for exceptional care
Unfortunately, the second round of blood work showed I’d defied the odds: I had multiple myeloma. I was stunned. I grasped that my doctor was referring me to someone, but I missed most of the details.
Once I could think straight again, I realized that winning this type of lottery meant I needed to be treated at the nation’s premier cancer center, MD Anderson.
Finding joy despite a cancer diagnosis
My first visit was a whirlwind of activity. My wife and I met with Dr. Nelson and his staff. Then I had a bone marrow biopsy and all the other diagnostic tests necessary for a formal diagnosis.
With the holidays coming up, Dr. Nelson told us to go ahead and keep our travel plans. I could begin my multiple myeloma treatment when we returned in January. Of course, enjoying a trip after receiving an incurable cancer diagnosis is easier said than done. But we tried not let the news ruin our celebration.
Why I chose MD Anderson
One of the reasons I chose MD Anderson is that I knew I had more treatment options there than I would have at other hospitals.
At MD Anderson, I received a relatively new multiple myeloma chemotherapy regimen before it became the standard of care. It was a 21-day cycle which consisted of one Revlimid (lenalidomide) capsule for 14 days, four Velcade injections over the first 12 days and two dexamethasone tablets taken in conjunction with each injection. Then, in April 2014, I received an autologous stem cell transplant.
After that, I was given a choice: I could restart my induction therapy protocol, begin a typical maintenance therapy protocol or join a Phase II clinical trial under Robert Orlowski, M.D. The trial was for a potential new maintenance therapy involving a medication then known as “MLN-9708,” or ixazomib.
I opted for the clinical trial. And while I do have a few lingering side effects — mainly mild neuropathy, muscle fatigue and digestive upsets — they are totally manageable and not significantly different than what would be expected with traditional maintenance therapy. Best of all, I have seen no disease progression since starting the clinical trial.
Today, I am living a nearly normal life, even with an incurable cancer. And that is what’s most important to me, my wife and our children.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.