Myeloma is a rare form of cancer that affects the plasma cells found in blood and bone marrow. Plasma cells normally produce antibodies, also called immunoglobulins, that are essential for immune system functioning. There are several types of myeloma, but the most common form involves the uncontrolled, abnormal production of the plasma cells that create immunoglobulin G (IgG). Left untreated, IgG myeloma can cause irreversible damage to bones, kidneys, and other vital organs in the body. Aggressive chemotherapy and a series of bone marrow transplants are usually performed in hopes of ridding a patient of the devastating cancer.
The exact causes of IgG myeloma are not known. Research suggests that there is likely a genetic basis, though cases do not always run in families. Long-term exposure to industrial chemicals, pollution, or radiation may put individuals at a higher risk of acquiring the cancer. Almost all people who develop IgG myeloma are over the age of 60 at the time of their diagnoses.
When plasma cells turn cancerous, they proliferate uncontrollably and produce excessive levels of IgG. Other important immunoglobulins are suppressed, leading to major deficiencies in the immune system. The cancer tends to arise in the bone marrow of major bones throughout the body, including the spine, hips, and the large bones of the legs and arms. Over time, IgG myeloma erodes bones from the inside out and leaves them soft and brittle. Many people with the condition experience chronic body aches, joint pain and stiffness, muscle weakness, and possibly loss of feeling in one or more limbs.
As cancer spreads from the bones to other parts of the body, a person may suffer extensive kidney damage. Symptoms of nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and painful urination are associated with advanced IgG myeloma. In addition, patients with the disease often become anemic and highly susceptible to infections.
Early diagnosis and treatment are essential in providing the best possible chances of surviving IgG myeloma. Imaging scans, blood screenings, spinal taps, and bone marrow biopsies are standard tests that are performed to check for the cancer. Chemotherapy is the mainstay of treatment for IgG myeloma patients, and many people require weekly chemo sessions for several months or years. One or more bone marrow stem cell transplants may be arranged during or after chemo to help regenerate healthy marrow and repair bones that have been damaged by the cancer. With ongoing treatment and monitoring, many patients enter remission and survive for many years after receiving their initial diagnoses.