Should Seniors Worry About Multiple Myeloma?

Should Seniors Worry About Multiple Myeloma?

Hearing “you have cancer” can be one of the most terrifying moments of a person’s life. But there is good news for seniors who are diagnosed with multiple myeloma – while it is an incurable cancer, it is also a highly treatable one. You can live well and even thrive in your golden years, even as you work with your doctor to manage the symptoms of multiple myeloma.

What is Multiple Myeloma?

Sometimes just referred to as myeloma, this is a type of cancer of the blood that tends to be more common in the elderly than in any other age group.

To understand this disease, you must understand how it attacks the blood.

Plasma cells are types of white blood cells in the blood. When the plasma cells are normal, they create antibodies. These antibodies help you fight infection.

For instance, those who are diagnosed with COVID are often considered “immune” from the infection for a time, because their body has fought it off and created antibodies as a result. Those antibodies make it tougher to get COVID again.

Multiple myeloma is a form of blood cancer found in the plasma cells of the body. As you might imagine, this means that the plasma cells can’t adequately do their job anymore. As a result, myeloma not only causes the problems you might expect from a cancer diagnosis, but it also causes kidney issues, a higher chance of bone fractures, other blood disorders, and more.

Myeloma affects your immune system, so it becomes more difficult to fight off infections. Those with myeloma are immunocompromised and must be careful not to expose themselves to potential infections, even the common cold or the flu.

The word “multiple” in the name comes from the fact that the cancer is almost always widespread, in multiple places, creating tumors in many bones throughout the body. Those tumors lead to bone pain and a higher risk of bone fractures.

An Increased Danger of Fractures

Being at a higher risk of bone fractures and more prone to infections is a double-whammy that can hit the elderly quite hard. That’s because as we age, our bones become more brittle even if we are in otherwise excellent health; add in the bone damage from myeloma and now the chances of a serious fracture go up exponentially.

And if you do suffer a fracture that requires surgery, like breaking your hip, the resulting surgery might be tougher to heal from. Surgery itself might be more difficult, as this disease often results in a lack of platelets in the blood and that may lead to problems with excessive bleeding.

That’s just another reason why having a personal alarm button is so important. As we get older, the odds of an accident or medical emergency go up. A slip and fall can easily result in a serious fracture somewhere in the body – in fact, the CDC reports that 95% of all hip fractures are the result of falling sideways, as you might if you were stepping out of a shower and slipped on a wet floor. Having medical technology at your fingertips means you can press a button to get help right away.

How Common Is Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myeloma accounts for over 10% of all the blood cancers in the United States. So while it is rare, it’s probably not as rare as you might think, especially in the elderly. The vast majority of diagnoses of multiple myeloma happen to seniors between the ages of 65 - 74. It’s more common among men than women (by a small margin) and more likely to show up in those of African-American descent.

The National Cancer Institute reports that almost 2% of all new cancer cases diagnosed in the country are a form of myeloma. Almost 60% of those who are diagnosed live at least five years after their diagnosis.1 Multiple myeloma is known for being incurable, but highly treatable, with many medications approved to try. A person with myeloma may be able to live a relatively healthy, robust life for decades with the right medication regimen.

Even in the celebrity world, some of your favorites have been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Those who have been public about their diagnosis include politician Geraldine Ferraro, actor Mickey Hargitay, former secretary of state Colin Powell, and actor Peter Bohle (of “Everybody Loves Raymond”). News anchor and author Tom Brokaw has been open about living with the disease for many years now.

Multiple Myeloma Symptoms

The symptoms of myeloma vary a bit from one person to another, but they tend to include:

·        Infections that are difficult to treat and seem to come on very easily

·        Anemia (low hemoglobin count) that indicates not enough iron in the blood

·        Persistent bone pain that might appear anywhere in the body but especially in the back, ribs, and hips

·        Significant fatigue and weakness

·        Problems with your kidneys, including decreased kidney function, kidney stones, or kidney failure

As time goes on, you might also experience more frequent and more severe fractures, which is the result of the disease weakening your bone structure. As with any significant diagnosis, it’s prudent to do all you can to stay safe and secure during the course of treatment, but staying safe from falls is especially vital when you are dealing with multiple myeloma.

A medical alert system with fall detection is the best way to get some peace of mind that if you do fall, you can get help at a moment’s notice. That’s because tiny fall sensors in this life-saving senior alert device can detect the moment a fall occurs and send that information to an emergency monitoring center, even if you are unable to press the button alarm yourself. Since fractures for those with multiple myeloma can be quite serious, getting the appropriate treatment fast could mean a much better medical outcome.

Diagnosis and Treatment

No one knows what causes multiple myeloma, though scientists believe there could be a genetic component to developing the disease. In some, it could be caused by previous radiation exposure or regular contact with certain chemicals, such as benzene.

The disease is often diagnosed as a result of the symptoms. Unexplained infections, pain in the bones, and anemia can prompt bloodwork and urine analysis. If there are certain elevated antibodies in the blood and urine, your doctor might suspect myeloma. The diagnosis is confirmed through a bone marrow biopsy.

The treatments for multiple myeloma are very promising. Since the first documented case in 1844, therapies have progressed quite rapidly. The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation boasts the formulation of 15 new drugs over the last few decades that have significantly increased the life expectancy of those with multiple myeloma.2

The most effective treatment can occur when the myeloma is caught before significant kidney damage sets in.

Current treatments include traditional chemotherapy drugs, anti-inflammatory medications, and proteasome inhibitors, which target and kill myeloma cells. Stem cell transplants are a possible treatment, as are radiation therapy and analgesics to treat bone pain. Newer medications are used to prevent the bone fractures that are more common with myeloma patients.

Living with Multiple Myeloma

It’s very important for seniors to remember that this is a highly treatable form of cancer. Having a strong mindset can be just as important as medical treatment. If one treatment doesn’t work well for you, there are many others that might.

Staying physically healthy can give you many more productive years. To that end, pay close attention to staying safe. Choosing to wear a medical alert bracelet or wristband is a great way to start.

This unobtrusive, attractive medical alarm is with you at all times – you can even take it into the shower with you! This helps ensure that no matter where you are in your home, help is literally a single button press away. And when you go out, choosing a mobile or on-the-go medial alert system ensures that same excellent protection extends to wherever you may roam, from the grocery store down the street to visiting the grandchildren across the country.

You can fully enjoy life even while living with a myeloma diagnosis, so make sure that your golden years are as robust and joyful as you want them to be! Alert1 can help you stay safer, which can help you live a happier, healthier life.