The one thing that I have learnt through my years of experience in the field of medicine is that cancers have a mind of their own and predicting the prognosis of the disease is one of the toughest jobs that a doctor has to do. This is also the case with Multiple Myeloma – a rare type of cancer that afflicts the plasma cells in our body. Calculating Multiple Myeloma life expectancy is tricky, since a lot depends upon the extent of malignancy, stage of detection, response to treatment, etc. However, I do understand that it is highly important for the family of the patients to know how much more time they have with their loved one. Hence, through this post I am going to discuss a few points that help predict the life expectancy of a person suffering from multiple Myeloma.
Multiple Myeloma, as mentioned earlier is one of the rare types of cancer that affects the plasma cells of our body. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cells (components of our blood) that constitute our immune system. These cells are created in our bone marrow and are transported throughout our body. Hence, a when these cells turn cancerous there is no stopping them – Multiple Myeloma is one of the few neoplasms that is rarely localized and advanced malignancy cannot be completely stopped.
The life expectancy and prognosis for Multiple Myeloma can be made only after taking all aspects related to the disease into consideration. Some of the factors that affect the prognosis of Multiple Myeloma include
- age & previous medical history of the patient,
- extent of kidney damage caused by the immunoglobulin secreted by the plasma cell clones
- initial response to treatments
- stage of the cancer wherein the condition was detected and the treatment was started
- relapsed, refractory or responsive myeloma
- genetic mutations (such as translocation of parts of chromosome 14)
Based upon these factors, cancer experts usually predict the life expectancy for Multiple Myeloma depending upon the stage of the cancer.The stages are determined based upon the serum albumin and serum beta-2 microglobulin levels. According to this system,
- At Stage I, i.e albumin ≥ 3.5 & beta-2 microglobulin ≤ 3.5, the median survival is 62 months and
- At Stage II, Multiple Myeloma (beta-2 microglobulin levels are 3.5 to 5.5) it is 44 months for patients with stage II .
- For patients with stage III disease, who show a beta-2 microglobulin levels of more than 5.5, the median survival rate reduces to less than 44 months.
However, as mentioned earlier, these are just median figures and may not hold true for everyone. Also, factors like early detection and timely treatment increase the life expectancy greatly. One need not despair on being diagnosed of Multiple Myeloma. Several public figures like Peter Boyle, Roy Schneider (of jaws fame), Actress Lisa Ray , Kathy Guisty (founder of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation) have continued with their life in spite of the disease. And some such survivors include Pat who has a great blog on living life with Multiple Myeloma
Treatments like stem cell transplant and newer treatments such as thalidomide, lenalidomide, velcade, have helped improve the prognosis of the disease. In case you want to help the cause of Multiple Myeloma, you can do your bit by participating in one of the active Multiple Myeloma clinical trials underway in areas near you.