How to Spot Early Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma
Multiple myeloma is a relatively rare form of cancer that begins to take shape inside a plasma cell, a type of white blood cell, according to reputable health conglomerate Mayo Clinic. Plasma cells are essential in the fight against infections. These cells are in charge of making antibodies that will be able to fight back against germs. When cancer cells start to build up in bone marrow, however, they begin to leave very little room for the vital healthy blood cells your body needs. These cancerous cells begin to produce abnormal proteins.
There is not yet a known cause for multiple myeloma, otherwise known as Kahler disease, myelomatosis, and plasma cell myeloma. It is a disease that is just barely more common in males than in females. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), over 32,000 Americans were diagnosed in 2019 alone. Approximately 100,000 people in the United States are currently living with multiple myeloma.
Early signs and symptoms of this type of cancer may be difficult to identify and may not even show up for quite some time. Some people remain asymptomatic for most (or all) of their illness. Symptoms typically develop slowly over years and often only appear when the disease has reached an advanced stage. Multiple myeloma is sometimes discovered during a typical health exam, for example, after running a routine blood test or testing for other symptoms or another condition. Often, the earliest symptoms of this type of cancer include extreme weakness, fatigue, and numbness or tingling, usually of the legs.
Symptoms vary quite a bit from person to person, but some common signs of multiple myeloma include bone issues. The American Cancer Society identifies some common bone problems such as bone pain, often felt in the hips, ribs, skull, or back. Additionally, frequent (and otherwise unexplained) broken bones and fractures can occur, at times caused only by a minor injury. Affected individuals can experience repeated fractures of, particularly weakened bones. If the bones of the spine are affected, they can collapse and result in spinal cord compression. This type of stress on the spinal cord can cause severe pain, weakness, and numbness in arms and legs. The American Cancer Society indicates that these nervous system symptoms are a medical emergency and that people experiencing these specific conditions should contact their doctor right away to avoid permanent complications or paralysis. Some people describe the feeling as “pins and needles”, otherwise known as peripheral neuropathy.
Fatigue and shortness of breath are also common complaints. Anemia can occur and lead to weakness and unusually pale skin. This condition is caused by a low blood cell count or shortages of red blood cells, white blood cells, and blood platelets. This can cause a reduced ability to exercise, confusion, mental fogginess, and dizziness.
Some people suffering from multiple myeloma are much more susceptible to recurrent infections. They may find themselves falling ill more often with fever and bacterial illnesses such as pneumonia. These frequent infections are caused by leukopenia or having too few white blood cells which can lower one’s resistance to infections. Patients may be especially slow to respond to treatment. Infections may linger for much longer and infections may become much more serious for longer.
The excess protein that is created with myeloma can lead to severe kidney problems. Signs of damage to the kidneys can be identified via a blood test or a urine test. If kidneys start to fail, they cannot process and eliminate excess salt, fluids, or body waste. With kidneys are compromised, symptoms such as weakness, shortness of breath, itchiness, and swelling in the legs, can occur.
Multiple other symptoms can appear suddenly and prove uncomfortable to individuals with multiple myelomas, such as weight loss, nausea, feeling drowsy, severe constipation, increased thirst, and increased urination. Some of these may be the direct result of elevated levels of calcium in the blood, a condition otherwise known as hypercalcemia. Damage to the bones leads to the release of calcium in the bloodstream, possibly resulting in a lack of appetite, abdominal pain, muscle pain or weakness, confusion, and excessive thirst. If levels of calcium in the bloodstream remain high enough, you can even risk slipping into a coma.
Low blood count due to multiple myeloma can lead to thrombocytopenia, leading to minor cuts, bruises, or minor scrapes causing serious otherwise unexplained bleeding. Additionally, hyperviscosity is the result of blood thickening and slowing blood flow to the brain. Symptoms of this include confusion, dizziness, weakness on one side of the body, and slurred speech.
American Cancer Society
National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)