Multiple Myeloma (Bone Marrow Cancer)

Multiple myeloma, also known as bone marrow cancer, is formed throughout the body by malignant plasma cells in bone marrow. It is a relatively uncommon cancer affecting roughly 26,000 men and women in the U.S. each year. The specialist physicians at Norton Cancer Institute use treatments that can manage the symptoms and extend life expectancy substantially. There currently is not a cure for multiple myeloma.

Norton Cancer Institute provides a full range of myeloma treatment options. That includes access to innovative clinical trials featuring promising new therapies, as well as extensive cancer support services and resources to empower you and your loved ones, wherever you are in the journey.

Learn more about bone marrow cancer below, including signs, symptoms and risk factors.

Understanding Multiple Myeloma

Plasma cells help the body’s immune system fight disease by producing substances called antibodies. Too many plasma cells can form a tumor in the bone marrow called a myeloma; many tumors are called multiple myeloma.

The excess growth of plasma cells interferes with the body’s ability to make red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. This causes anemia and makes you more prone to infections and abnormal bleeding.

As the cancer cells grow in the bone marrow, they cause pain and destruction of the bones. If the bones in the spine are affected, it can put pressure on the nerves, resulting in numbness or paralysis.

Risk Factors for Bone Marrow Cancer

Multiple myeloma mainly affects older adults, and is more common among African Americans. To date, there is no way to prevent multiple myeloma, but there are certain risk factors associated with the disease, including:

  • A family history of bone marrow cancer
  • Exposure to chemicals such as herbicides, rubber, textiles, petroleum products or heavy metals
  • Exposure to radiation, including radiation therapy
  • History of chronic infections

Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma

Many people show no signs of bone marrow cancer. When symptoms are present, they may include:

  • Anemia
  • Bone pain or fractures
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Infections (viral or bacterial)
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Numbness in the legs
  • Problems with urination
  • Weakness and fatigue

Diagnosing Bone Marrow Cancer

Multiple myeloma is often difficult to detect. If your physician suspects the disease, he or she may perform diagnostic tests, including:

  • X-rays
  • Blood and urine tests
  • CT and/or bone scans
  • Bone marrow aspiration
  • Biopsy
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