Perhaps one of the most difficult things that humankind has faced is cancer. Since science brought to light the existence of this disease that destroys bodies from the microscopic level has caused many a nightmare. Scientists and doctors all over the world are hard at work to discover a cure.
Families of afflicted patients are coping with the illness by making sure their loved ones are comfortable even with the symptoms and complications that come with the diagnosis. There are also some who scour the internet for news of “natural cures” or undergo major lifestyle changes to prevent cancer.
It seems though that cancer could strike anyone and the only thing we can do is to be knowledgeable about symptoms and pay attention to what is going on in our bodies for any abnormalities and have it checked by a doctor. With cancer, an early diagnosis could save your life.
Knowing the symptoms of multiple myeloma is very important so that once it is detected in the early stage, the doctor can give periodical blood and urine tests to monitor the disease’s progress. Also, it would be impossible to treat a cancer if you don’t know it is there! Furthermore, in the later stages, all that you can do is to manage the symptoms to make the patient’s remaining time more bearable and comfortable.
Most Common Multiple Myeloma Symptoms
Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that strikes the plasma cells, a type of white blood cell that produces antibodies. There are many symptoms of multiple myeloma although not all of them may be experienced by the patient. Here are ten of the most common symptoms one might experience:
1. Bone pain
Since the bone marrow is where blood cells are produced, it is understandable that the skeletal system will also be affected. In multiple myeloma, abnormal plasma cells accumulate in the bone marrow and attach themselves to the structural cells of the bone. This will of course cause bone pain, usually on the spine and ribs and is aggravated during movement and shifting positions. The pain is often described as “constant, deep and sharp”. Bone pain is the most common symptom and affects 70 percent of multiple myeloma patients. Patients experiencing this symptom are sometimes given radiation therapy to treat bone lesions and relieve pain.
2. Bone weakness
Myeloma cells stimulate osteoclasts which are cells that break bone down. It also inhibits osteoblasts which are cells that lay down new bone. When there are more cells that break down bone than the cells which create new bone the result is either lesions on the bone or bone thinning (osteoporosis). This will cause bones to break more easily. A patient with bone weakness will be prescribed bisphosphonates to strengthen the bone. They are also advised to avoid participating in contact sports and activities that could result in falls (definitely no skydiving!) to lessen risk of fractures.
3. Bone fractures
As mentioned above, multiple myeloma patients are susceptible to fractures even from minor stress or injury because their bones are already weakened.
When abnormal plasma cells accumulate in the bone marrow, production of red blood cells is reduced. This will result in anemia or low blood count. Patients with anemia experience fatigue, paleness, difficulty in concentrating or remembering, dizziness, and shortness of breath after mild exertion.
This can be treated by eating a healthier diet, taking iron, vitamin b12, or folic acid supplements. It is advised though that patients should check with their doctor before taking any vitamin supplements or herbal remedies because they might interact with prescribed medication.
Since multiple myeloma targets the cells that are responsible for producing antibodies, myeloma patients are susceptible to infections. They could get repeated infections and it might take them awhile to recover when they do get ill. It is important that when signs of infection are observed, it should be treated immediately to avoid severe complications. Also, patients should be more careful and strict in following good hygiene practices like proper hand washing or using hand sanitizer, and close contact with ill people should be avoided.
6. Kidney damage
M-proteins produced by the myeloma cells are filtered by the kidneys. This will ultimately cause damage the kidneys. Treating the myeloma will obviously solve the problem but patients are also advised to drink lots of fluid to help flush out the toxins from the treatment and the m-proteins. However, if the kidney damage is severe, dialysis may be needed.
7. Weight loss
This may sound ideal for patients trying to lose a few pounds for a sexier figure but there is nothing sexy about losing weight through cancer. Losing weight is usually associated to imbalances in the blood and kidney failures.
- Elizabeth A Shephard, PhD, CPsychol, Richard D Neal, PhD FRCGP, Peter Rose, MD, FRCGP, Fiona M Walter, MD, FRCGP, Emma J Litt, MRCP, FRCPath, & William T Hamilton, MD, FRCP, FRCGP (2015). Quantifying the risk of multiple myeloma from symptoms reported in primary care patients: a large case–control study using electronic records.
Hyperviscosity is a condition wherein the proteins produced by the myeloma cells cause the blood to thicken and slow down blood flow to different parts of the body. Slow blood flow to the brain could cause confusion and dizziness. This is treated by plasmapheresis or removing protein from the blood. Blood thinners, however, would not solve the problem.
As bone is broken down by myeloma cells, the calcium from the bones is released into the bloodstream. High levels of calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia) may result in extreme thirst, loss of appetite, urinating frequently, severe constipation, and even coma in extreme cases.
This last symptom is certainly not unique to multiple myeloma but should be addressed as well. It is easy to focus on fighting the physical effects of the disease that we often neglect to treat the emotional symptoms. Cancer patients are definitely susceptible to depression because they are faced with their mortality and witnessing our health deteriorate is not easy on their emotions.
Furthermore, the many treatments and the uncertainty of whether the medication worked can play havoc on anyone’s emotional well-being.
Perhaps the best treatment for this symptom is the support and love of family and friends. Knowing that they are there for you no matter what happens could help a lot not only as a cure for depression but maybe also for physical symptoms as well.
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