What is Myeloma?
Myeloma is cancer of certain white blood cells called plasma cells. It is also called plasma cell dyscrasia, plasma cell myeloma, myelomatosis and multiple myeloma. Almost 16,000 Americans will be diagnosed with myeloma this year. Many will seek care at clinics treating multiple myeloma and other types of myeloma such as Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.
Myelomas are divided into 4 categories, which helps doctors decide the best treatment:
- Multiple myeloma is the most common form of myeloma (about 90% of cases) and involves many sites in the body.
- Extramedullary plasmacytoma involves a single clump of myeloma cells outside the bone marrow.
- Plasmacytomas can form in the skin, muscle, lungs or almost any other part of the body.
- Solitary myeloma is myeloma that affects only one area of the body.
Types of Myeloma
Some cases of myeloma grow slowly. These cases are called indolent or smoldering myeloma. Sometimes patients with indolent or smoldering myeloma are not treated immediately and are closely monitored by their doctors. In most cases, treatment is needed eventually.
Myeloma results from an acquired injury to the DNA of a single cell in the lymphocyte development sequence that leads to the formation of plasma cells. Myeloma occurs in lymphocytes developing into B cells, as opposed to T cells. B lymphocytes transform into plasma cells, which produce proteins called antibodies.
Myeloma Treatment Options
Radiation therapy is considered standard treatment for patients with a single plasmacytoma. It is given 5 days a week for 4-5 weeks on an outpatient basis.
Standard multiple myeloma treatment includes 2 or more drugs that work together to kill myeloma cells. Many of these drugs are taken by mouth; others are injected into a blood vessel. Either way, the drugs travel through the bloodstream, reaching myeloma cells all over the body. For this reason, chemotherapy is called systemic therapy.
An investigative treatment, called peripheral blood stem cell transplantation is also used to treat patients with multiple myelomas. This treatment uses high-doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy along with the transfusion of blood cells to replace diseased or damaged bone marrow.
Clinical Trials for Myeloma
A clinical trial is underway at Philadelphia's Fox Chase Cancer Center for patients with multiple myeloma. This trial is evaluating the effectiveness of 2 non-chemotherapy drugs. This study appears promising without having many of the side effects of chemotherapy.
A new treatment designed to stop growth of new blood vessels required for myeloma cells to grow in the bone marrow, an antiangiogenesis agent, is also available.
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Cancer diagnosis information for patients from the College of American Pathologists