How long can a person live with multiple myeloma?

Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects the bone marrow.
Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects the bone marrow.

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

In this cancer, plasma cells (a type of white blood cell) accumulate in the bone marrow, giving rise to tumors in multiple bones of the body. Normal plasma cells make antibodies that help the body fight against infection and various diseases. An increase in the number of multiple myeloma cells crowds out the normal cells and destroys them.

Multiple myeloma is discovered through routine blood screening when patients are being evaluated for other problems such as frequent infections. 

Since 2000, the percentage of patients living five years after diagnosis has been on the rise. With improved treatment, survival results are likely to be better. 

According to the American Cancer Society, the median survival rates are as follows:

Multiple Myeloma Survival Rates
Revised international staging system Median survival
Stage I 62 months (5 years, 2 months)
Stage II 42 months (3.5 years)
Stage III 29 months (2 years, 5 months)
 

Remember, these survival rates are only estimates. They cannot predict the exact period you can live with multiple myeloma. How long you can survive depends upon your body’s response to cancer therapy. Discuss with your doctor to better understand your specific situation.

What are the signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma?

Multiple myeloma can be without symptoms, with multiple symptoms or can have complications that require emergent treatment. Presenting signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma include the following:

Multiple myeloma can cause hypercalcemia (increased blood calcium levels) whose signs and symptoms are:

In one-third of patients, multiple myeloma is diagnosed after the patient complains of frequent fractures. Two-thirds of patients complain of bone pain, commonly lower back pain

What causes multiple myeloma?

The exact cause of multiple myeloma is unknown. But you are at slightly higher risk if you have:

  • Age >65 years
  • Male gender
  • African American lineage
  • Family member history of multiple myeloma
  • Obesity
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Exposed to certain viruses

Contact with chemicals used in rubber manufacturing, woodworking, or firefighting or in herbicides

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What are the complications of multiple myeloma?

Multiple myeloma can cause such problems as the following:

  • Renal failure is seen in 25% of patients with multiple myeloma.
  • Anemia, neutropenia (low white blood cell count), or thrombocytopenia (low platelet count) due to the abnormal growth of plasma cells in the bone marrow. 
  • Thrombosis is the formation of a blood clot inside the blood vessel.
  • Raynaud phenomenon is a condition resulting in discoloration of the fingers and/or the toes after exposure to changes in temperature (cold or hot) or emotional events.
  • Severe bone pain
  • Spinal cord compression: As many as 20% of patients develop spinal cord compression at some point of their disease. Symptoms typically include back pain, weakness, or paralysis and numbness in the legs. 
  • Bacterial infection is the leading cause of death in patients with myeloma. The highest risk is in the first two to three months of chemotherapy.
  • Hyperviscosity syndrome (thickening of the blood): Easy bruising, bleeding in the eye, heart problems, seizures, and confusion may occur because of hyperviscosity syndrome.
  • Hypercalcemia may cause increased urination (polyuria) and increased thirst (polydipsia), muscle cramps, constipation, and a change in the patient’s mental status.

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Medically Reviewed on 8/14/2020
References
Medscape Medical Reference