Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects the blood. It specifically affects the plasma cells found in the bone marrow. This means that it directly effects not only your immune system, but also your bone health. Multiple myeloma cannot be cured but there things that can be done to slow the progress of the cancer substantially if caught in initial stages of progression.
Stages is a term used to describe how far the cancer has advanced. It is a term that is often used to help determine which treatments offer the best outlook for long-term survival. The more you know about the various multiple myeloma stages, the better prepared you will be to make informed decisions related to your long-term health and well-being.
Smoldering Multiple Myeloma
This stage of the multiple myeloma is one in which there is an increase of plasma cells in the bone marrow that features the monoclonal proteins but there are no symptoms of multiple myeloma present yet. It is characterized for its slow growth and often involves no treatment with physicians preferring to wait until the disease progresses before proceeding with treatment. You will be closely monitored during this stage for signs the disease is progressing.
Multiple Myeloma Stage 1
During this stage, myeloma cells are present, in small numbers. The following features will also be present:
- Hemoglobin levels above 10 g/dL but slightly below normal.
- Bone x-rays may show one area of damage to the bone or appear completely normal.
- Normal calcium levels in the blood.
- Minute amounts of monoclonal immunoglobulin present in urine or blood.
In other words, most patients with stage one multiple myeloma experience no notable symptoms.
Multiple Myeloma Stage 2
Stage two is a somewhat forgotten land between stage one and stage 3 multiple myeloma. There will be more cancer cells present in your body during this stage and all other testing standards will fall between the standards used to determine stage one and stage three.
Multiple Myeloma Stage 3
This is when things progress quickly. The number of myeloma cells in your body will be high as well as your levels of monoclonal immunoglobulin, which is found in your urine or blood. Your levels of albumin will be low during this stage. You will also experience anemia during this stage with hemoglobin levels below 8.5 g/dL and should have three or more areas of bone that have been destroyed by the cancer at this stage.
There is no multiple myeloma stage 4 though some people may refer to the final stages of the illness. Some say this is a stage of rapid progression. During this stage, you may endure relentless fatigue, kidney damage, kidney failure, bone fractures, bone pain, and skin lesions. You are also likely to encounter numerous infections as your immune system and organs become compromised by the advancing cancer.
Obviously, beginning treatment well before reaching multiple myeloma’s final stages is optimal. The earlier you identify and begin to monitor the cancer, the better your prognosis, and quality of life during treatment, will be.