I don’t want to spend ages describing this disease when it is dealt with very well in various websites, so here is a very brief description and then links. Beware the internet: much material is out of date – many statistics certainly are. It’s possible to get easily frightened! Every individual has their own medical history which affects outcomes in very different ways. New treatments are being developed.
Myeloma is experienced by patients in lots of different ways and there are quite a few different types. Essentially it’s a type of bone marrow cancer. Normally plasma cells in your bone marrow form part of your immune system and produce antibodies to help fight infection. If you have myeloma the abnormal plasma cells release only one sort of antibody known as paraprotein. This has no useful function. The DNA of the plasma cells is damaged and they become cancerous. This causes them to divide and expand. One major problem caused by this is bone pain in places where bone marrow is most active: spine, skull, pelvis, ribs, shoulders and hips. Also myeloma can cause tiredness, infections, kidney damage and hypercalcaemia (too much calcium in the blood).
It’s difficult to know what causes myeloma but exposure to certain chemicals, radiation, viruses and having a weakened immune system may be triggers. It’s more common amongst older people (I’m quite young to get it!) so it may be that susceptibility increases with age or (I like this) it may result from a accumulation of toxic insults!
Diagnosis is done by measuring paraproteins, x-rays, blood counts and bone marrow biopsies (needle inserted into your hip bone to get a sample of bone marrow so the percentage of plasma cells can be counted. I also did 24 hour urine samples (what a pain to collect!).
If you wish to know more, see my links section. Cancerbacup and the International Myeloma Foundation issue very useful booklets, which are available online in pdfs.