Myeloma is a type of cancer that can eventually cause a number of complications. It isn’t yet clear why myeloma occurs or why some patients show almost no symptoms and others get sick very quickly. In some cases, the disease process is so slow that doctors recommend close monitoring as opposed to aggressive treatment. At other times, cancer progresses rapidly, causing numerous complications in the process.
There are a number of symptoms associated with myeloma. However, it is important to note that some patients have virtually no symptoms at all. In addition, it is highly unlikely for the disease to cause symptoms while it is still in its early stages.
Some or all of the following symptoms may occur once the disease has progressed.
Like many types of cancer, myeloma can cause nausea. Again, not all patients will experience nausea. For those who do, it may be slight at first and then become more severe as the disease progresses. In some instances, the nausea is severe enough that vomiting occurs. As the cancer cells crowd out healthy cells in the bone marrow, the patient can start to lose red blood cells. This means that less oxygen is transported throughout the body, as there are fewer red blood cells to do the job. As the body struggles for more oxygen, a cascade effect can occur. This can cause nausea and vomiting, especially when the stomach is agitated by a lack of oxygenated blood. A patient struggling with too few red blood cells (and the accompanying lack of oxygen) is said to be anemic. This is just one of the potential complications of myeloma. Furthermore, anemia can have a number of complications of its own. More will be discussed about those complications later on.
2. Lack of Appetite
It isn’t surprising that a person suffering from myeloma would experience a reduced appetite, especially when nausea and vomiting are prevalent. Like so many of the other symptoms of this disease, not everyone loses their appetite. Even those who do are unlikely to experience it while the disease is in its infancy. It is also worth noting that many types of cancer can cause a loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting. This is also true of many other diseases that are not related to cancer.
3. Weight Loss
Anyone who eats significantly less is likely to lose weight. The same is true for those who suffer from persistent nausea and vomiting. However, those who are affected by myeloma may also experience weight loss apart from the aforementioned symptoms. Unintentional weight loss can be a sign that something is wrong with one’s physical health. As a result, anyone who experiences it should not hesitate to make an appointment with a physician as soon as possible.
4. Persistent Fatigue
As the disease progresses, fatigue may increase exponentially. This is also tied to the anemia that can be caused by myeloma. As more cancer cells crowd the bone marrow, there is less room for the healthy red blood cells the body needs. Even though the heart and lungs may be functioning normally, there are fewer red blood cells available to transport oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. This forces the cardiovascular system to work harder than normal. The end result is persistent fatigue that doesn’t go away with rest. The fatigue is also likely to be present at rest and then get worse with activity. In severe cases, it may become virtually impossible for the affected individual to perform even the most routine tasks, such as walking up a flight of stairs.
Cancer is often known to cause pain and myeloma is no exception. When advanced myeloma is present, the patient is likely to feel pain in the chest. The pain may be dull with increasing severity as the disease progresses. Furthermore, it may be present almost all of the time, although shifting positions could temporarily provide some relief. Some patients have also reported feeling pain up and down the spine, especially in more advanced cases.
6. Frequent Illness
Myeloma has an adverse impact on the immune system because it crowds out the healthy blood cells that are responsible for producing antibodies. These antibodies allow people to fight off infection more effectively. When they are no longer present in the body, there is very little defense against viruses and bacterial infections. As a result, the person suffering from myeloma is much more likely to get sick easily. This often results in repeated infections. To make matters worse, something as simple as the common cold can cause significant complications. Many people who suffer from myeloma eventually contract pneumonia. In the worst of cases, pneumonia may become resistant to antibiotics, making it difficult to treat successfully.
As the myeloma becomes more advanced, the affected individual may begin to experience constipation that is either more frequent or more severe in nature. By itself, this particular symptom may not be an indicator of anything particularly serious unless it happens on a routine basis. That said, the presence of constipation along with the other symptoms that have already been discussed can definitely be a cause for concern and should be thoroughly examined by a physician in order to get to the root cause of the problem.
8. Loss of Strength Along with Numbness
One of the more unique symptoms of myeloma involves a pronounced loss of strength that is accompanied by a lack of feeling, particularly in the extremities. Of course, this can signal a number of different conditions and may not necessarily point to a diagnosis of myeloma. However, it is possible that symptoms such as these are caused by this or other types of cancer as opposed to neurological conditions. Since it is possible for various neurological conditions to cause similar symptoms, it is imperative that anyone experiencing them be thoroughly examined in order to determine if myeloma is indeed the cause.
Another relatively unique symptom that can be caused by myeloma is confusion. This is often tied to the anemia that is so frequently present with this particular disease process. As the myeloma progresses to a more advanced state, the anemia caused by it has a tendency to get worse and worse. As this continues to occur, it is not uncommon for the individual in question to find it more difficult to concentrate on certain tasks. This is largely because there isn't enough oxygen getting to the brain, thereby causing confusion and a lack of focus. When the brain is deprived of oxygen, affected individuals tend to experience a pronounced state of confusion. As a result, it may become more difficult for individuals who are suffering from severe anemia to concentrate or comprehend what is going on around them.
Who Is at Risk?
Myeloma can affect anyone at any age. That said, it has a tendency to affect people who are age 40 or over more often than it does younger individuals. By the same token, it typically strikes males more often than women. Of course, anyone that has a family history of myeloma is at a greater risk of developing the disease themselves. In addition, this particular form of cancer seems to strike individuals of color more often, although the reasons for this remain unknown.
Additional Complications of Myeloma
Some of the complications of this disease have already been discussed, such as the risk for anemia. That said, it is possible to experience additional complications that are directly connected with myeloma. Because the disease attacks cells in the bone marrow, the bones themselves can become extremely weak. Without enough bone marrow present to keep bones strong, it is possible for the bones to break without any real force being put upon them. This can leave people debilitated and may result in the need for additional medical treatment in an attempt to correct those issues effectively.
How is Myeloma Treated?
Myeloma is usually diagnosed through blood tests and samples of bone marrow. Once an official diagnosis has been made, the severity of the disease will likely determine how physicians choose to proceed with treatment. In some cases, treatment may be put off, especially if the individual in question is not showing any symptoms at that particular time. For those who are symptomatic, treatment may involve certain targeted therapies as well as the more traditional chemotherapy and radiation. In some extreme cases, it may be necessary to undergo a bone marrow transplant.
While it is understandable that any cancer diagnosis can be frightening, myeloma is often one of the more treatable forms of the disease. In some individuals, the disease progresses very slowly with little or no symptoms, meaning that treatment may not be necessary in the immediate future. Even for those who are symptomatic, there is often a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of various cancer treatments that may be able to slow the progression of the disease. Some of the more fortunate individuals could even go into remission with effective treatment. As is the case with most forms of cancer, the key is to undergo regular medical screening and see a physician any time symptoms occur. The earlier that it is discovered, the earlier an effective plan can be put in place.
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