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Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma is a benzene-related cancer that forms in plasma cells.  

Plasma cells arise in the bone marrow and are an important part of the immune system because they provide antibodies which help fight infections and other diseases. Cancerous plasma cells are called myelomas. An individual with multiple myeloma has an abnormal build-up of myeloma cells in the bone marrow which eventually crowd out healthy cells, leading to fatigue, an inability to fight infections, and kidney damage.  These cancerous cells also cause damage to bones, increasing the risk of broken bones.

Who is at Risk for Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myeloma often begins as monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), a condition in which an abnormal protein is in your plasma cells. In the United States, about 3% of people over the age of 50 have MGUS. Although MGUS does not typically cause any problems, about 1% of people with MGUS will develop multiple myeloma.
Further, it is well-documented in epidemiological studies that certain work-related exposures to toxins can lead to multiple myeloma. Excess cases of multiple myeloma have been observed in workers exposed to several toxic substances, including:

  • Benzene
  • Solvents
  • Engine Exhausts
  • Ionizing Radiation

Individuals who work as mechanics, tank car drivers, pipefitters, laborers, petroleum workers and pressmen (to name a few), are at increased risk for developing multiple myeloma. Lastly, multiple myeloma can have a long latency period, which means that a diagnosis can result from exposures that occurred many years earlier.

What are the Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma?

Signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma may include bone pain, nausea, fatigue, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, mental fogginess or confusion, weakness or numbness in legs, and excessive thirst.

Diagnosing Multiple Myeloma

To diagnose multiple myeloma, doctors may run blood tests, urine tests, imaging tests, or bone marrow tests.

Treatment Options

Although unfortunately complete remission is rare in multiple myeloma, standard therapy involves targeted therapy, chemotherapy, biological therapy, radiation therapy, bone marrow transplant, or corticosteroids. These treatment options can have serious side effects including premature diabetes, heart disease or neurological problems.  Chemotherapy agents have a wide array of risks, including renal insufficiency and peripheral neuropathy.

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