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Myeloma awareness week 21-28 June 2013

Myeloma Awareness Week is all about working together to increase awareness of this complex and incurable cancer.

What is myeloma?

Myeloma is a type of cancer arising from plasma cells which are found in the bone marrow. This is the spongy material found in the bones that produces white and red blood cells and platelets. Plasma cells form part of the immune system and they produce antibodies to help fight infection.

In myeloma, malignant plasma cells in the bone marrow produce large amounts of an abnormal antibody known as paraprotein and this lacks the capacity to fight infection and has no useful function. It is often through the measurement of this paraprotein that myeloma is diagnosed and monitored.

Senior couple happy

Who gets myeloma and what causes it?

Most commonly people in their later life and predominately over the age of 60 appear to get myeloma, however it also can be detected in younger people. It is slightly more common in men and it is the second most common type of blood cancer. Roughly 4,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the UK, however it represents only 1% of all cancers and about 15% of all types of blood cancers.

When the DNA of the plasma cell becomes damaged it causes the cell to become malignant or cancerous and these abnormal plasma cells are known as myeloma cells. It appears the causes of myeloma are not known however, exposure to certain chemicals, radiation, viruses and a weakened immune system are thought to be potential causes or trigger factors.

Where is myeloma found?

Unlike the majority of cancers, myeloma doesn’t exist as a lump or tumour instead the cells divide and expand within the bone marrow. Myeloma can affect multiple locations in the body where bone marrow is present and this is why it is often called multiple myeloma. The bones of the spine, skull, pelvis, ribs, shoulders and hips are all common places where myeloma can occur.

What are the symptoms of myeloma?

Some of the most common symptoms associated with myeloma include

  • Bone pain
  • Fatigue
  • Infection
  • Bone fractures
  • Anaemia
  • Kidney damage
How is myeloma treated?

There have been many new developments in the treatment and management of myeloma over the last few years that have had a significant impact on the way myeloma is treated. Treatments include chemotherapy, steroids and stem cell transplantation and drugs for myeloma can be very effective at halting its progress, controlling its symptoms and complications and improving quality of life. However, treatment for myeloma is not curative.

Currently, there is no known cure for myeloma and as it is a very individual cancer it can be difficult to predict how well patients will do on treatment. Recent data from the Office for National Statistics shows that five-year survival rates in myeloma are increasing at one of the fastest paces among all cancer types in the UK.

The relief of a diagnosis

It can be very upsetting being told you have a serious illness but when you are diagnosed with cancer your emotions must seem like a rollercoaster ride. It will affect everyone differently as we are all unique, some people may be completely overwhelmed and in a state of shock and feel numb.

In time you may also experience a great deal of fear about what the future holds for you, anger and frustration that it is happening to you, even if you have tried to keep fit and lead a healthy lifestyle. For others I suppose it can come as a relief, as they finally have an answer to why they have been feeling so poorly for so long.

One of the most important things that you can do to help cope with the news of a family member’s diagnosis is to gain as much information and an understanding of the disease. Medical information can seem daunting or even frightening at times, especially when you are told what may lie ahead at different stages of the illness. However with advance preparation, planning and guidance from myeloma support groups, may make things a little easier and enable you to find a way forward.

Further information

Myeloma UK can offer advice and support to people with this type of blood cancer and they are the only organisation in the UK dealing exclusively with myeloma. Their broad range of services cover every aspect of myeloma, from information and support to improving standards of treatment and care through research, education, campaigning and raising awareness.

Free Spirit is a specialist travel insurance provider dedicated to those being declined travel insurance cover elsewhere, due to their health. We look at people’s health on an individual basis as we are aware everyone is unique.

It is now one of the UK’s largest specialist insurance schemes, for people with pre existing conditions including myeloma.