Lack of symptoms makes myeloma hard to detect

BEATING CANCER::About 500 people are diagnosed with multiple myeloma each year in Taiwan; however, with proper treatment, the survival rate is improving

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

Fri, Jun 29, 2018 - Page 4

Multiple myeloma is difficult to diagnose in the early stage because it has few or no symptoms, but about 500 people are diagnosed with the cancer annually in Taiwan, the Hope Foundation for Cancer Care said yesterday.

A 70-year-old man surnamed Chen (陳) fell from his scooter about two years ago and was told by a doctor that his bone density was low when he went to the hospital for an examination.

As he also has chronic anemia, the physician referred him to National Taiwan University Hospital’s Division of Hematology and Oncology.

He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which causes bone erosion and bone pain.

Chen, who is a dentist, said that he exercises regularly and has a healthy daily routine, but has a slightly low hemoglobin count.

He later noticed that his body ached when he tried to lift his granddaughter in his arms.

Huang Shang-yi (黃聖懿), an attending physician in the division, said that multiple myeloma is a relatively rare cancer that occurs when plasma cells in the bone marrow become cancerous and grow out of control.

Multiple myeloma most commonly occurs in people between the ages of 65 and 70, with men about two times more likely to be diagnosed than women, he said.

It is the third-most prevalent blood cancer in the nation, with about 500 cases diagnosed every year, he said.

As typical symptoms — including bone pain, anemia, foamy urine and hypercalcemia (having more calcium in the blood than normal) — are often associated with other chronic diseases, most patients are only diagnosed at a late stage, mostly because of worsening pain or a bone fracture, Huang said.

The foundation and hospital conducted a survey to better understand the social and mental support needed for multiple myeloma patients, and discovered that their physiological discomfort seriously affects their daily lives, foundation deputy executive director Cheng Kai-yun (鄭凱芸) said.

Although the prevalence of multiple myeloma appears to be on the rise, the survival rate of patients on proper treatment has gradually improved to about five to seven years from about two to three years in the past, and a small proportion of patients survive more than 10 years, Huang said.