News broadcaster Tom Brokaw recently revealed that he has a disease called multiple myeloma. The news put a spotlight on the disease, which affects about 77,617 Americans, according to numbers from the National Cancer Institute.
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Brokaw, 74, learned in August that he had the disease. He has continued to work as a special correspondent for NBC News. He also contributed to the network’s coverage of the winter Olympics in Sochi.
So what is multiple myeloma? It is a blood cancer similar to leukemia and lymphoma. The disease is not curable. In multiple myeloma, the plasma cells become cancerous. Their growth in the bone marrow takes up space. Their growth also reduces the bone marrow’s ability to make red blood cells, platelets and white blood cells.
Symptoms of the disease
Each year, doctors diagnose nearly 24,000 people with multiple myeloma, the National Cancer Institute says. Many times doctors diagnose patients with the disease who haven’t experienced any symptoms.
Tests that examine the blood, bone marrow and bones help doctors find and diagnose multiple myeloma.
Consult your doctor if you’re experiencing these symptoms.
- Bone pain, often in the back or ribs.
- Bones that break easily.
- Fever for no known reason or frequent infections.
- Increase in urination, especially if associated with constipation.
- Easy bruising or bleeding.
- Trouble breathing.
- Weakness of the arms or legs.
Helping a patient to live longer
There is no cure for the disease. But treatment can prolong a patient’s life and relieve its effects.
For treatment, doctors can give new anti-myeloma drugs that avoid many of the side effects of chemotherapy. The new drugs also can help a patient to live longer.
Chemotherapy can still be useful in combinations or if a transplant using the patient’s own stem cells is necessary.
Typical effects of multiple myeloma can include:
- Anemia, which makes you feel tired
- Bone pain
- Excessive urination, which can make you feel tired from dehydration
- Susceptibility to infection
The abnormal plasma cells often form tumors in bones. The plasma cells also make an antibody protein that is not needed by the body and does not help to fight infection. These antibody proteins build up in the blood and can cause the blood to thicken or can damage the kidneys.
Risk factors of multiple myeloma
Multiple myeloma is found most often in people who are middle-aged or older. Other risk factors include:
- Being black
- Being male
- Having a brother, sister or parent who has multiple myeloma
- Being exposed to atomic bomb radiation
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