Multiple myeloma symptoms, risk factors, and FAQs

Symptoms of multiple myeloma

Multiple myeloma typically results in these signs and symptoms:

  • Anemia. A low level of red blood cells.
  • Fatigue.
  • Bone pain and fractures. The back or ribs are the most common sites, but any bone can be affected. In advanced multiple myeloma, a patient may lose inches in height from compressed vertebrae over time.
  • Hypercalcemia. A high level of calcium in the blood that can arise as a result of bone breakdown. It can cause drowsiness, constipation, and kidney damage.
  • Fever and infections. A result of the suppressed immune system.
  • Kidney failure. The M-protein builds up in the blood and can clog the outflow of the kidneys. M-protein can produce a frothy or foamy appearance of the urine.

Causes and risk factors

We do not fully understand the cause of myeloma. The changes in plasma cells are acquired, not inherited, but research shows a slight increase in the incidence of disease in parents or siblings of people with multiple myeloma. There are weak associations between exposure to radiation, pesticides, and processed wood used in carpentry and development of myeloma.

These risks may increase the chances of developing myeloma:

  • Age. Age is the greatest risk factor for MM. Myeloma occurs most commonly in people over 60, and the average age at diagnosis is 70.
  • Race. Myeloma occurs twice as frequently in black people than in white people.
  • Exposure to radiation or chemicals. Asbestos, benzene, pesticides, and chemicals used in rubber manufacturing and wood products may cause myeloma. Firefighters and those exposed to herbicides have a higher rate of myeloma.
  • Personal history of MGUS.
  • Gender. More common in men.

Questions and answers (FAQs)

What is the survival rate for multiple myeloma?

The 5-year median survival rate depends on the stage:

  • Stage I: has not been reached.
  • Stage II: 83 months
  • Stage III: 43 months.

Source: National Cancer Institute

Can multiple myeloma be cured?

Myeloma is not considered to be a curable malignancy, since relapses can still occur after many years of remission. However, myeloma can be controlled for long periods of time, akin to hypertension or diabetes.