Multiple Myeloma (MM), a cancer of the bone marrow, is the second most common blood cancer that is quite often misdiagnosed. In fact, the majority of patients have never heard of it until they are told they have the disease.
"The incidence of myeloma is growing; it appears to be mushrooming, so it is very important that we bring attention to this and apply some urgency to bringing much needed awareness," Monica Taylor, chairperson of Jamaica Multiple Myeloma Support Group, told Health.
"And this awareness is needed among both doctors and patients alike, because too often people are misdiagnosed. In fact, if patients are more aware of the symptoms and that they may have the disease, they can ask their doctors about it, which will make for earlier diagnosis."
Taylor, a multiple myeloma survivor who was first diagnosed three years ago, credits early intervention with enabling her to receive treatment before any significant damage was done.
"Early diagnosis and treatment is very important. If multiple myeloma is not detected early, it can damage bones and kidneys. The longer it takes to get treated, the more damage is done to the body."
Myeloma, also called multiple myeloma, is a cancer of cells in the bone marrow that affects the immune system and can damage bone. Myeloma currently affects more than 100,000 people in the United States, with an estimated 20,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
Myeloma is reportedly increasing in numbers and is becoming more common in younger patients, with possible links to environmental toxins. Recently, myeloma was added to the list of cancers covered in people exposed to the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States.
To help raise awareness, in 2009 the International Myeloma Foundation (IMF) declared Myeloma Awareness Month, and now more than 120 countries, including Jamaica, are helping to bring awareness to the disease.
Taylor leads the Jamaica Multiple Myeloma Support Group, which was formed in July 2013 with a small group of survivors and family members. They help to provide patients, caregivers, family members and friends with support through education, information and sharing of experiences; and to help to build public awareness about MM as well as improve the sensitivity and responsiveness of providers to the needs of patients.
The group works under the guidance of the International Myeloma Foundation and has established links with the Jamaica Cancer Society.
Taylor noted that some symptoms of multiple myeloma might be indicative of other conditions, which is often the main reason for the misdiagnosis.
In fact, in the early stage, multiple myeloma may cause no symptoms. However, as multiple myeloma progresses, plasma cells accumulate in the bones, causing symptoms such as:
✓ Weakness and fatigue because of anaemia
✓ Aches and pain all over the body
✓ Bone pain because of lytic bone disease
✓ Kidney problems
✓ Infections from non-functioning immunoglobulins
✓ Weight loss
✓ Plasma cells may also accumulate in purplish lumps visible underneath the skin
Often, an executive profile of the patient is needed to reveal more. If a doctor suspects multiple myeloma, he/she will order tests of the blood, urine and bones to make the diagnosis. Imaging tests also help doctors make an analysis and measure its spread.
Abnormal blood test results, high protein levels in the blood and urine, high blood calcium, low red blood cell count, and elevated creatinine are among the findings that will indicate if a patient has multiple myeloma.
Taylor noted that increasing awareness of this devastating disease can lead to patients asking whether their doctor has considered myeloma as a possible cause for their symptoms, which will lead to earlier diagnosis.
It is hoped that growing worldwide awareness will greatly lead to increased funding for research and, ultimately, save lives.
During the months of March and April, a number of initiatives and activities will take place across Jamaica and the rest of the world to bring awareness to this deadly disease.