Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma

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Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer that starts in the bone marrow. It affects the plasma cells, which are an important part of your immune system. They make antibodies to help your body fight infections. It can be hard to diagnose early on because there aren’t always signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma. In fact, some people do not develop symptoms despite having abnormal blood tests. This is smoldering myeloma. Doctors closely monitor these people for signs that it is progressing to symptomatic myeloma.

Multiple Myeloma Symptoms

Multiple myeloma is often diagnosed at an advanced stage. When early symptoms of multiple myeloma develop, they tend to be vague. People often attribute them to some other problem. Symptoms of advanced myeloma become more noticeable. Common myeloma cancer symptoms include:

Many of these symptoms are common to a variety of diseases and disorders. Seeing your doctor is the only sure way to know the cause. Whatever the cause, seeking medical care early after the onset of symptoms usually offers the best chance of successful treatment.

Signs of Multiple Myeloma

Symptoms are things you experience, but others you might not be able to see. Signs, on the other hand, are things someone can measure or detect. In multiple myeloma, signs are an important part of diagnosing and monitoring the disease. They also help explain many of the symptoms. Signs of multiple myeloma include:

  • Anemia, which can make you tired, short of breath, and sluggish

  • Hypercalcemia, which is high levels of calcium in the blood

  • Hyperviscosity, which is blood that is too thick. It is due to large amounts of M protein, an abnormal antibody that myeloma cells make. Thick blood can’t flow properly, especially to the brain. Resulting symptoms can mimic a stroke

  • Kidney damage, which doctors can measure using blood and urine tests

  • Low platelet levels, which leads to bleeding problems

  • Low white blood cell levels, which lead to frequent infections

  • Nerve damage leading to weakness, tingling or numbness

  • Weak bones leading to frequent fractures or bones that fracture very easily—sometimes with little or no trauma. This can also cause collapse of spinal vertebrae leading to spinal cord compression.

Diagnosing Multiple Myeloma

Reviewing and discovering the signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma is the first step in diagnosing the disease. Once your doctor suspects multiple myeloma, there are other diagnostic tests you may need. This includes blood studies, a bone barrow biopsy and imaging exams. A bone marrow biopsy can confirm the presence of myeloma cells in the bones and show any genetic changes in the cells. Genetic changes play a role in your outlook, or disease prognosis. Imaging exams can help your doctor find out how much damage myeloma has done to your bones. They can also help your doctor locate all the areas where the cancer is growing.

Once your doctor has a complete picture of your disease, you can begin to plan treatment. Talk with your doctor about all of your treatment options. Ask about the risks and benefits to understand the best approach for you.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Mar 4
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