Understanding Multiple Myeloma

While still a relatively uncommon cancer, multiple myeloma has recently received attention surrounding the diagnosis of popular news reporter, Tom Brokaw. This year, an estimated 24,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with multiple myeloma, and there are about 77,600 people now living with this blood cancer.

About Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that forms because of a disorder in the plasma cells, which live in the bone marrow and are the producers of antibodies. These antibodies are what provide protection from infections after vaccination, but in myeloma, the plasma cells become malignant and grow out of control, crowding out the normal bone marrow.

When plasma cells grow uncontrolled by the normal immune system, the consequences can include:

  • Anemia, a condition caused by low red blood cell counts due to crowding in the bone marrow.
  • Bone lesions, as myeloma cells like to create “holes” in the bones.
  • Kidney problems, because the antibodies produced by the plasma cells can clog up the kidneys.
  • Elevated blood calcium level, typically as a consequence of the bone issues.

Multiple Myeloma Symptoms

The most common symptoms for patients are typically fatigue, weakness, bone pain, anemia, or frequent unexplained infections. Multiple myeloma affects both men and women but is more common in men and there is a higher occurrence of multiple myeloma among African Americans than among Caucasians.  It is a disease typically seen in patients who are older than age 65, although it occurs in African-American patients about ten years earlier, and it affects a fair number of younger patients.

Multiple Myeloma Treatment

Treatment for patients with multiple myeloma has changed dramatically over the past decade. As we have developed more effective drugs to target the plasma cells, we also have significantly improved overall survival. Fifteen years ago, the average survival was 3 to 4 years, whereas the average survival is now over 7 years, and for many patients, expected survival is more than 10 years.

The keys to this improvement in overall survival are related to several factors. First, we have better tools to combat myeloma. There have been 6 new drugs approved for treating myeloma over the past decade, and these agents are more effective at treating the disease than the standard mixtures of chemotherapy we had before. The second factor that has improved survival for certain patients is the use of high-dose chemotherapy and autologous stem cell transplantation, in which the patient’s own stem cells are given back to the patient’s body after receiving high-dose chemotherapy. Finally, we now have a better understanding of the biological changes that occur in a myeloma cell and this is helping us to better target treatment needed among these patients.

As we discover new tools and expand the options available for treating multiple myeloma, we see encouraging advancements in both survival and quality of life for these patients. The multidisciplinary treatment team at Winship at Emory has been recognized as a national and international leader in both transplant and non-transplant based approaches to treatment therapies, patient outcomes and clinical trials.

Multiple Myeloma Online Chat

Multiple Myeloma Chat Sign UpWant to learn more about multiple myeloma? Join expert physician, Jonathan Kaufman, MD, for a live web chat on March 11, 2014 at 12:00 PM EST. Dr. Kaufman will be there to answers all your questions about known risks, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of multiple myeloma. Bring your questions and prepare for a great discussion!

Multiple Myeloma Chat Sign Up

About Dr. Sagar Lonial

Dr. Sagar LonialDr. Lonial is Vice Chair of Clinical Affairs for the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, and Director of the Translational Research for the B-Cell Malignancy Program. He is also a professor in the Emory University School of Medicine.

Dr. Lonial’s research focuses on combination therapy in B-cell malignancies focusing on myeloma. He is a trained bone marrow transplant physician with an interest in molecular therapy for lymphoma and myeloma. His clinical interests include evaluating the combination of new molecular targeted agents for B-cell tumors as well as target discovery and validation.

Dr. Lonial has authored or coauthored over 200 publications and recently was awarded the Celgene ‘Young Investigator’ Award, the MMRF ‘Top 15 Innovator’ Award, and the MMRC ‘Center of the Year’ award.

He earned his medical degree from the University Of Louisville School Of Medicine. He completed his internship and residency at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, followed by a fellowship in Hematology/Oncology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.

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  • Andrea C.

    Hello. I was wondering about my slightly elevated abnormal lab values that came back. [Personal information removed for patient privacy.] What I was wondering is what does this mean? My doctor says not to worry at this time and he will repeat labs in 3 months. [Personal information removed for patient privacy.] Thanks for any info you can help me with.

    • Hi Andrea,
      Thanks for your question. Unfortunately, we are unable to speak to your personal medical situation without seeing you in person. If you’d like to schedule an appointment with our team, you’re welcome to call us at 404-778-1900.
      Thanks.