Myeloma Symptoms and Risks
Myeloma cancer is a cancer that develops in the plasma cells, which are found primarily in bone marrow. As the cancer progresses, the number of healthy blood cells in the bone marrow decreases. Because of this, early symptoms of multiple myeloma tend to be general and easily missed, like fatigue (due to anemia from a low red blood cell count) or increased bruising (due to fewer platelets in the blood). An abnormal blood test can be the first sign of myeloma for many people.
People with myeloma may experience no symptoms (asymptomatic). Those who do have myeloma symptoms may have:
- Bone pain in the back and ribs
- Spinal cord compression
- Pain, numbness or tingling (possible signs of pressure on the spinal cord)
- Bone fractures, especially in the spine
- Kidney problems
- Susceptibility to bacterial infections
- Frequent infections
- Weakness, fatigue and lack of color
- Weakness or numbness in the legs
- Loss of appetite
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Weight loss
If you have any of these myeloma symptoms, call your physician or make an appointment with The University of Kansas Cancer Center.
Additional diagnosis and screening such as blood tests may show further signs of myeloma:
- Abnormal blood cell count
- High levels of calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia)
- Abnormal protein levels in the urine
Myeloma risk factors
Myeloma itself is relatively rare, accounting for only about 1% of all cancers diagnosed each year. Although we don’t know the exact cause of myeloma, we are aware of common risk factors that may be associated with developing myeloma cancer:
- Age: The average age of onset for myeloma cancer is the early 60s. People under the age of 35 account for less than 1% of all myeloma cases.
- Being overweight or obese increases the risk of getting myeloma.
- Exposure to radiation.
- Exposure to toxic chemicals, such as agricultural chemicals and Agent Orange.
- Exposure to viruses such as HIV, hepatitis and herpes.
- Gender: Myeloma occurs more commonly in men.
- Race: Myeloma cancer occurs more commonly among African-Americans.
- Genetics: Someone who has a close family member (a parent or sibling) with the disease is more likely to get myeloma than someone without a family history of myeloma.
Most cases of multiple myeloma begin as a diagnosis of MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance), a noncancerous condition. Those with MGUS have an increased risk of developing myeloma.
Having MGUS or other risk factors of myeloma does not mean that you will get multiple myeloma. Even those with no risk factors can develop myeloma.