How Long a Person Can Live With Multiple Myeloma Symptoms

How Long Can Someone Live With Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that affects the bone marrow, can vary in survival rates depending on the stage. The survival rates range from two to five years.

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside the long bones.

  • In this cancer, plasma cells (a type of white blood cell) accumulate in the bone marrow, causing tumors in multiple bones.
  • Normal plasma cells produce antibodies that help the body fight infection and disease.
  • An increase in multiple myeloma cells overcrowds the bone marrow, destroying normal cells.

Multiple myeloma is often discovered through routine blood screening when patients are evaluated for other problems, like frequent infections.

Since 2000, the percentage of patients living five years after diagnosis has been increasing due to improved treatment.

The American Cancer Society provides the following median survival rates:

Multiple Myeloma Survival Rates

A revised international staging systemMedian survival
Stage I 62 months (5 years, 2 months)
Stage II 42 months (3.5 years)
Stage III 29 months (2 years, 5 months)

It is important to note that these survival rates are only estimates and cannot predict the exact duration of life with multiple myeloma. The response to cancer therapy plays a significant role in survival. Consult with your doctor for a better understanding of your specific situation.

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What Are the Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myeloma can be asymptomatic, present with multiple symptoms, or lead to complications requiring immediate treatment.

The initial signs of multiple myeloma include:

  • Fractures
  • Bone pain
  • Weakness
  • Exhaustion
  • Bleeding
  • Easy bruising
  • Anemia
  • Frequent infections
  • Weight loss
  • Nerve damage
  • Bowel or bladder incontinence

Multiple myeloma can also cause hypercalcemia, indicated by:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling thirsty
  • Frequent urination
  • Constipation
  • Feeling very tired
  • Muscle weakness
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion or trouble thinking

In one-third of patients, multiple myeloma is diagnosed after frequent fractures, while two-thirds of patients experience bone pain, commonly in the lower back.

What Causes Multiple Myeloma?

The exact cause of multiple myeloma is unknown. However, certain factors can increase the risk:

  • Age over 65 years
  • Male gender
  • African American ethnicity
  • Family history of multiple myeloma
  • Obesity
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Exposure to certain viruses
  • Contact with chemicals used in rubber manufacturing, woodworking, firefighting, or herbicides

What Are the Complications of Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myeloma can result in various complications:

  • Renal failure in 25% of patients
  • Anemia, neutropenia (low white blood cell count), or thrombocytopenia (low platelet count) due to abnormal plasma cell growth
  • Thrombosis, the formation of blood clots in blood vessels
  • Raynaud phenomenon, discoloration of fingers or toes after temperature changes or emotional events
  • Severe bone pain
  • Spinal cord compression, affecting 20% of patients and causing back pain, weakness, paralysis, and numbness in the legs
  • Bacterial infection, the leading cause of death in myeloma patients, especially within the first few months of chemotherapy
  • Hyperviscosity syndrome, resulting in easy bruising, bleeding in the eye, heart problems, seizures, and confusion
  • Hypercalcemia, leading to increased urination, increased thirst, muscle cramps, constipation, and changes in mental status
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How to Fight Fatigue When You Have Multiple Myeloma

Is Multiple Myeloma Curable?

While multiple myeloma is not curable, treatment can extend a person’s life.

Multiple myeloma has no cure. Treatment aims to reduce symptom severity and extend survival by a few months to a few years.

The best treatment for multiple myeloma depends on the individual and typically involves a combination of therapies:

  • Immunomodulators
  • Steroids
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Bisphosphonate therapy
  • Blood or platelet transfusions
  • Plasmapheresis
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery
  • Bone marrow transplant

What Are the Side Effects of Multiple Myeloma Treatment?

The treatment for multiple myeloma may cause certain complications, including:

  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Second cancers
  • Venous thromboembolism
  • Cardiac toxicity
  • Renal toxicity

How Is Multiple Myeloma Diagnosed?

Diagnosing multiple myeloma is challenging since early stages show no symptoms that can be attributed to other diseases. It is typically diagnosed using tests, patient symptoms, and a physical exam.

If multiple myeloma is suspected, further tests may include:

  • Blood counts
  • Blood chemistry tests
  • Quantitative immunoglobulins
  • Urine tests
  • Bone marrow biopsy

Additional tests include:

  • Electrophoresis
  • Serum-free light chains
  • Beta-2 microglobulin
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Flow cytometry
  • Cytogenetics
  • Fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH)
  • Fine needle aspiration biopsy
  • Core needle biopsy
  • Bone X-rays
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scans
  • Echocardiogram (ECHO)

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