Multiple Myeloma

Information on multiple myeloma, one of the 15 health conditions covered by the VA for Camp Lejeune victims. General info compiled from the Mayo Clinic, the American Cancer Society and other relevant sources.

Multiple Myeloma is a cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell. Multiple myeloma causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow, where they crowd out healthy blood cells. Rather than produce helpful antibodies, the cancer cells produce abnormal proteins that can cause kidney problems.

Multiple myeloma is a relatively uncommon cancer. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting multiple myeloma is 1 in 143 (0.7%).

Risk Factors

Scientists have found few risk factors that may affect someone’s chance of getting multiple myeloma.

  • Age – Less than 1% of cases are diagnosed in people younger than 35. Most people diagnosed with this cancer are at least 65 years old.
  • Gender – Men are slightly more likely to develop multiple myeloma than women.
  • Race – Multiple myeloma is more than twice as common in African Americans than in white Americans. The reason is not known.
  • Radiation – People who were exposed to radiation from an atomic bomb blast had a higher risk of multiple myeloma. Exposure to lower levels of radiation may also increase the risk of multiple myeloma.
  • Family history – Multiple myeloma seems to run in some families. Most patients have no affected relatives, so this accounts for only a small number of cases.
  • Workplace exposures
  • Obesity
  • Having other plasma cell diseases – Many people with monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) or solitary plasmacytoma will eventually develop multiple myeloma.

Causes

Scientists still do not know exactly what causes most cases of multiple myeloma. However, they have made progress in understanding how certain changes in DNA can make plasma cells become cancerous. DNA is the chemical that carries the instructions for nearly everything our cells do. Some genes (parts of our DNA) contain instructions for controlling when our cells grow and divide. Certain genes that promote cell division are called oncogenes. Others that slow down cell division or make cells die at the right time are called tumor suppressor genes. Cancers can be caused by mistakes, or defects, in the DNA called mutations that turn on oncogenes or turn off tumor suppressor genes.

Treatment

The treatment for multiple myeloma may include:

Presentation

Multiple myeloma may not cause signs or symptoms for a long time and is often not found until it is advanced. Myeloma tumors can weaken the bone, cause too much calcium in the blood, and damage the kidneys and other organs.

Prognosis

There’s no cure for multiple myeloma. Most people live for years after getting the diagnosis, but need ongoing treatment to slow the disease’s progress. You may have a remission, but the disease often comes back. Treatments to fight it may stop working. Research is underway to get earlier diagnosis and better treatments so people can live longer, fuller lives.

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