Multiple myeloma is a reasonably rare form of cancer. When it first develops, it is often asymptomatic or, if symptoms do occur, they can easily be confused with those of other illnesses. Additionally, the common signs and symptoms of myeloma vary from one patient to the next. This makes the condition very difficult to diagnose. When symptoms do occur, it is possible that they are not actually symptoms of the cancer, but rather of the complications of the myeloma.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Myeloma:
While there are a number of signs and symptoms that could point to myeloma, it is important to understand that they are different between patients. Some may have all of the symptoms described, others may have none, while others just some of those. The most common signs and symptoms of myeloma include:
– Bone fractures or bone pain
– Lethargy and fatigue
– Being more likely to develop infections
– A marked decrease or increase in urination
– Feeling restless, often followed by extreme fatigue and weakness
– Increased thirst
– Loss of appetite, followed by weight loss
– Nausea and vomiting
– Impaired kidney function
Once physicians have a reason to believe that multiple myeloma may be present in a patient, they will start to look for more specific evidence to confirm this. This includes:
– Bone lesions, which can cause the aforementioned fractures and bone pain. In people with multiple myeloma, there are often lytic bone lesions present, which are tiny fractures in the bone. The bone structure often weakens as a result of the accumulation of plasma cells.
– A low blood count, particularly of red blood cells. Anemia is often present in multiple myeloma patients, leaving them feeling tired and fatigued. It is possible that the blood count also shows up that there are insufficient white blood cells, which means the immune system is struggling. This is what causes the susceptibility to infections.
– Hypercalcemia, which means that there are unusually high levels of calcium in the blood. As a result of this, people lose their appetite, feel nauseous, sometimes to the point of vomiting, increase their levels of thirst, feel confused and restless, and notice changes in their urination.
– Impaired kidney function, which is a serious symptom of multiple myeloma that can lead to various other complications. It happens because the kidneys in multiple myeloma patients have to work extra hard in order to deal with the high levels of calcium and protein found in the bloodstream. Impaired kidney function is usually picked up during urine and/or blood tests.
If physicians have reason to suspect that a patient does or may have multiple myeloma, they may request a number of different blood and urine tests. These tests should be able to confirm whether the cancer is present or not. A full blood count is usually the first step towards diagnosis, after which further tests can be requested. These include x-rays and other forms of diagnostic testing that can show the extent of the cancer and how far it has progressed. Treatment will depend on the results of those tests.