March 2016 VOL 7, NO 2

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Multiple Myeloma

This Year, March’s Myeloma Awareness Month Is Myeloma Action Month

Sophie Granger 

Although multiple myeloma is the second most common blood cancer, the majority of patients are unfamiliar with this type of cancer until they are diagnosed with the disease.1 In 2009, with the goal of raising awareness about multiple myeloma, the International Myeloma Foundation (IMF) declared March Myeloma Awareness Month. According to the IMF, research funding can benefit from increased awareness of this devastating disease, in turn, saving lives and providing better outcomes for patients.2 This year, the IMF is taking their awareness campaign a step further, declaring that the MAM acronym, which originally stood for Myeloma Awareness Month, instead stands for “Myeloma ACTION Month.”1

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells that begins in the bone marrow, and belongs to a spectrum of disorders called plasma cell dyscrasias.3

The incidence of multiple myeloma has increased by almost 1% annually since 1975, and in 2014, multiple myeloma accounted for approximately 1.4% of new cancer cases.4 Although the mortality rates of patients with multiple myeloma peaked in the mid-1990s, the rates have decreased in recent years. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2016, approximately 30,330 new cases will be diagnosed (17,900 in men and 12,430 in women) in the United States, and that about 12,650 deaths are expected to occur (6430 in men and 6220 in women).5 Because awareness of multiple myeloma can lead to earlier diagnosis of the disease, navigators should take advantage of this campaign and talk to patients about the risk factors and symptoms of multiple myeloma.

With regard to sex and race, higher incidences of multiple myeloma are seen in men than in women, and African American patients are more than twice as likely to have the disease than white patients.6 Risk factors for multiple myeloma also include exposure to radiation, being overweight or obese, having a personal history of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance or solitary plasmacytoma, and being older in age; <1% of cases are diagnosed in patients aged <35 years, and most patients diagnosed with multiple myeloma are aged ≥65 years.

Because multiple myeloma often presents with no symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage, it is difficult to diagnose early.7 However, the most common symptoms of the disease include: (1) bone problems (eg, pain, weakness, breaks/fractures); (2) low blood counts (eg, anemia, leukopenia, thrombocytopenia); (3) hypercalcemia; (4) nervous system symptoms (eg, spinal cord compression); (5) nerve damage (eg, weakness and numbness); (6) hyperviscosity, which can cause confusion, dizziness, and stroke symptoms; (7) kidney problems, which can cause weakness, shortness of breath, swelling of the leg, and itchiness; and (8) increased risk for infection.8

Patients should also be made aware that some symptoms of multiple myeloma can overlap with those of amyloidosis (eg, kidney problems and nerve damage). Other overlapping symptoms include heart problems, enlargement of the liver and spleen or tongue, changes in skin color or texture, bleeding around the eyes, diarrhea, and carpal tunnel syndrome.8

Healthcare providers have an opportunity this March to start a conversation with their patients, and to raise awareness about the symptoms and risks associated with multiple myeloma. Other effective ways to reach patients include posting flyers, conducting public service announcements on local radio stations, and using the #MyActionMatters16 hashtag on social media.9


  1. International Myeloma Foundation. March is Myeloma Action Month. Accessed February 12, 2016.
  2. International Myeloma Foundation. March is Myeloma Awareness Month. Published January 24, 2014. Accessed February 12, 2016.
  3. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Myeloma. Accessed February 12, 2016.
  4. US Department of Health & Human Services; National Institutes of Health; National Cancer Institute. A snapshot of myeloma. Published November 5, 2014. Accessed February 12, 2016.
  5. American Cancer Society. What are the key statistics about multiple myeloma? Updated January 19, 2016. Accessed February 12, 2016.
  6. American Cancer Society. What are the risk factors for multiple myeloma? Updated January 19, 2016. Accessed February 12, 2016.
  7. American Cancer Society. Can multiple myeloma be found early? Updated January 19, 2016. Accessed February 12, 2016.
  8. American Cancer Society. Signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma. Updated January 19, 2016. Accessed February 12, 2016.
  9. International Myeloma Foundation. My action matters. Accessed February 12, 2016.

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