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Multiple Myeloma

Multiple Myeloma - What it is

Multiple Myeloma Singapore General Hospital

Multiple Myeloma is a type of blood cancer affecting the bone marrow predominantly and is characterised by excessive multiplication of a type of white blood cells called plasma cells.

It is the second most common type of blood cancer with approximately 100 to 120 new patients diagnosed with this disease in Singapore a year.

The consequence of unrestrained multiplication of plasma cells is two-fold. The cancer cells may overwhelm the normal bone marrow functions and prevent it from making enough healthy blood cells. As the number of myeloma cells increases, fewer red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are made.

Secondly, the myeloma cells may also damage and weaken the bone, make it friable such that it may fracture with even trivial injury or release calcium from the bones into the blood causing dangerously high blood levels of this element. This can cause excessive thirst, constipation, confusion or even loss of consciousness.

Multiple Myeloma - Symptoms

​Some of the common signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma include:

  • Bony pain, particularly the backbone and ribs
  • Anaemia can cause tiredness, shortness of breath especially on exertion
  • Bone fractures with minimal to no trauma 
  • Recurrent or frequent infections 
  • Kidney damage
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Increased thirst, constipation, mental confusion due to high calcium levels

Multiple Myeloma - How to prevent?

​Regular screening for multiple myeloma is generally not recommended. 

Individuals should seek medical attention if they have any of the above symptoms.
Currently there are also no proven preventive strategies for multiple myeloma. However, adopting a healthy lifestyle may help to prevent disease.

This includes: 
  • Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Quitting or not starting smoking
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Regular exercise

Multiple Myeloma - Causes and Risk Factors

​There is no specific cause for myeloma, but some factors that can increase the risk of myeloma include:

  • Age – Myeloma is more common in people over the age of 55 and increases with age such that over the age of 80 years up to 5% of patients may have myeloma.
  • Gender – Males are slightly more likely to develop myeloma compared to females.
  • Repeated exposure to toxic elements such as agricultural chemicals or pesticides, and petrochemicals are thought to increase the risk of Myeloma.
  • Exposure to DNA damaging ionising radiation or chemotherapeutic agents
  • Obesity is a common risk factor for several forms of cancers, including Myeloma
People with a first degree relative (a parent, sibling, or child) with Myeloma are nearly two times more likely to develop it compared to the general population

Multiple Myeloma - Diagnosis

Several tests and procedures might be needed to diagnose myeloma and develop an effective treatment plan. 
These may include: 
  • Clinical examination: Your doctor will check for any myeloma related complications and assess baseline functional capacity of different organ systems.
  • Blood tests: To test blood cell, kidney and liver function assessments. Blood tests required for measurement of M protein, subtyping and quantification as well as investigations required for staging like beta-2 microglobulin, to assess the extent of complications or organ function effects like kidney, calcium level etc will be performed.
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: Bone marrow samples are usually taken by inserting a needle into the flat part of the hip bone to extract the samples. These are then examined in the laboratory for the presence of cancer cells. It will also help quantify the percentage of the cancer cells in the marrow and help with prognostication by seeking the genetic change that the cancer cells harbour.
  • Imaging tests: Imaging tests including X-Rays or CT scan, MRI scans of the back bones and PET scans may be used to look for extent of the bone destruction caused by myeloma in the body. 

Multiple Myeloma - Treatments

SGH is a comprehensive myeloma care centre. At SGH, you'll receive care from a team of doctors and nurses who work together to understand and offer you personalised care. 

Treatment for myeloma depends on age, patient’s fitness or frailty at the time of diagnosis, presence, or absence of other medical issues like kidney failure, nerve damage symptoms etc. 

Treatment of Myeloma:
All patients diagnosed with myeloma benefit from treatment as it can help relieve pain, control and minimize complications of the disease, stabilize your condition and slow the progress of multiple myeloma. 

While myeloma is not a curable condition, there are many treatment options which are effective in controlling the disease for years. 

The goal of treatment is to bring myeloma in to a good remission and to keep it there for as long as possible while preventing and minimizing its complications and ultimately improve the quality of life.

Treatment of myeloma can be divided into different phases:
  • Induction Phase: with the aim to reduce the amount of cancer cells in the bone marrow
  • Consolidation Phase: with the aim of further deepen the response after induction therapy using treatments like an autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplant 
  • Maintenance Phase
There are different treatment modalities used in treatment of myeloma. They are often used in combination and is tailored based on the patient’s disease characteristics and overall function. 
  • Corticosteroids: Steroids can regulate the immune system and can control inflammation in the body. They are also very active against myeloma cells.
  • Chemotherapy: There are many chemotherapy drugs that are used to eradicate myeloma cancer cells and prevent their growth. There are different group of chemotherapy drugs used to treat myeloma: proteasome inhibitors, alkylators, immunomodulatory drugs etc. 
  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy harnesses the power of your immune system to control myeloma. For example, monoclonal antibodies like daratumumab target a specific protein on the surface of cancerous plasma cells and make it easier for the immune cells to identify and kill them. 
  • Haematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation: Stem cell Transplantation involves the substitution of diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow stem cells. In most cases, the patient’s healthy stem cells are transplanted. Healthy blood-forming stem cells are collected from the patient by a process called apheresis and is stored in advance of the transplantation. During transplantation, high doses of chemotherapy drugs are then given to destroy the diseased bone marrow. This isfollowed by reinfusion of previously collected stem cells back into the blood which then home in on the bone marrow and start producing all blood and immune cells
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy or radiotherapy uses high-energy radiation (rays or particles) to kill or damage cancer cells. It is usually used to shrink localised collection of cancerous plasma cells that form a tumor and is commonly used in combination with chemoimmunotherapy.
The management of multiple myeloma requires a multi-disciplinary team to support patients in various aspects of their care. We have a dedicated pharmacist-led education and medication reconciliation service, transplant and cell therapy co-ordinators and robust patient education supported by our advanced practice nurses. Our dedicated medical social workers also facilitate the provision of financial and psychosocial support to patients.

SGH also has many clinical trials that are specifically designed for and beneficial to myeloma patients. By collaborating with other institutions and industry partners in Singapore, South Asia and globally, we aim to continue bringing novel treatment options to Singapore myeloma patients via clinical trials. 

Multiple Myeloma - Preparing for surgery

Multiple Myeloma - Post-surgery care

Multiple Myeloma - Other Information

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