Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that originates in plasma cells. Plasma cells live in the bone marrow in the center of your bones and are a type of white blood cell, which means they are a key player in attacking germs and other harmful invaders that enter your body. However, when plasma cells become cancerous, their typical protective properties no longer work. This causes a host of problems, some of which impact your spine.
The disease usually occurs in bone marrow with the most activity, which includes marrow in the back and pelvic bones. When plasma cells develop into myeloma cells, they can produce a cancerous (malignant) tumor called a plasmacytoma. Plasmacytoma may occur as one solitary tumor, but multiple myeloma means more than one tumor exists. Multiple myeloma is the third most common blood cancer in the United States, according to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. It typically occurs in people older than age 50, and is more common in men and African Americans. This blood cancer can impact many areas of your body, but this article focuses on how multiple myeloma can affect your spine.
Understanding How Multiple Myeloma Damages Spinal Bones One of the main features of multiple myeloma is that the malignant cells produce a large amount of abnormal antibodies in the blood called M proteins. These M proteins don’t benefit the body, and they crowd out the healthy plasma cells that are beneficial. When the cancerous cells begin outnumbering the healthy cells, bone damage and other symptoms occur.
Here’s how multiple myeloma can cause problems for your spine: Multiple myeloma proteins prevent the cells that help keep your bones strong from working properly. Healthy bones regularly go through a break-down-then-build-up cycle to keep them strong. This process is called remodeling. The two types of cells responsible for remodeling are called osteoclasts(which break down old bone) and osteoblasts (which build new bone).
Myeloma cell growth interferes with the way osteoclasts and osteoblasts normally work together because they signal the osteoclasts to speed up the dissolving of bone. At the same time, the myeloma cells overpower the osteoblasts, preventing the formation of new bone. As a result, your spinal bones become soft and weak, making them painful and susceptible to fractures and osteoporosis. Additionally, the increased breaking down of bone can cause spinal cord compression and hypercalcemia (too much calcium in the blood).
Concluding Comments Multiple myeloma can impact many areas of the body, and it can cause significant problems in the spine. This blood cancer can cause back pain, osteoporosis, spinal fractures, and spinal cord compression—all of which have a huge influence over your quality of life.
Although multiple myeloma does not yet have a cure, patients have many treatment options. If you have multiple myeloma, your specialist will create a personalized treatment plan to help you successfully manage the symptoms.