Bone Marrow Cancer

In the UK, Almost4800 people are diagnosed with bone marrow cancer every year. This equals about13 people each day. The spongy tissue found in the center of your bones is bone marrow. It produces blood cells for the body. Inside the bone marrow, the cancer affects the plasma cells, a type of blood cell, which are an integral part of your immune system. Bone marrow cancer usually doesn't form a tumor or lump. Instead,they expand and divide within the bone marrow itself. It can develop anywhere in the bone marrow of the spine, pelvis, skull, rib cage and so on.


How Can I Know If I Have Bone Marrow Cancer?

1. Low Level of White Blood Cell

You can find it difficult to shake off an infection if you have bone marrow cancer because you don’t have enough healthy white blood cells to fight the viruses or bacteria which have caused the infection. Abnormal bleeding or bruising can happen, since the large amount of plasma cells in your bone marrow might have prevented the platelets from being produced. Tiredness and breathlessness can occur since you don’t have enough red blood cells.

2. Bone Pain

Around 70% people will first go to the doctor due to bone pain when they have bone marrow cancer. In most cases, the pain is found in the ribs or lower back. Pain in your bones is caused by too many plasma cells collecting there, which damages the bones. It is occasionally a fracture of a bone which takes patients to doctors at first place.

3. Excessive Calcium in the Blood

Calcium is released into your bloodstream when your bones are damaged. An excessive amount of calcium in your blood is known as hypercalcaemia, which make you feel very sick, thirsty and tired. You may also pass an abundance of urine, as your body attempts to get rid of this extra calcium. It can make you drowsy and difficult to maintain awake, if it goes untreated and continues to get worse.

4. Kidney Damage

When your kidneys aren’t working properly, your ankles can become swollen. This is a later symptom of this cancer. The large amounts of antibody protein produced by abnormal plasma cells may damage your kidneys when it goes through your bloodstream to the urine. You might hear our doctor refer the antibody protein as Bence Jones protein named after the doctor who discovered it in 1850.

When to See a Doctor

You need to see your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Unexplained, persistent bone pain, especially in your lower back or ribs;
  • Tiredness that is unexplained and lasts over two weeks;
  • Numbness, weakness or tingling in your legs or arms;
  • Unexplained weight loss;
  • Always feeling thirsty and passing a lot of urine;
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control.

These symptoms may not always indicate bone marrow cancer, but you'd better have them checked up.Your doctor will examine you for bone tenderness, signs of infection, bleeding and any other symptoms which could suggest you have bone marrow cancer.

What Causes Bone Marrow Cancer?

Although it is unclear what causes bone marrow cancer, doctors know it starts with one abnormal plasma cell in your bone marrow and then it multiplies rapidly. Since cancer cells do not mature and die like normal cells, they accumulate and at some point overwhelming the grow speed of healthy cells. In the bone marrow, the cancer cells crowd the healthy white and red blood cells out, which leads to fatigue and inability to fight off infections.

The cancer cells will keep trying to make antibodies like healthy plasma cells do; however these abnormal antibodies cannot be used by the body. Sothey just build up in your body and cause problems like damaging your kidneys.

Risk Factors for Bone Marrow Cancer

Even though the exact causes of bone marrow cancer are not known, there are many risk factors that will raise your vulnerability to it. You can find some of the risk factors listed in the chart below:

Risk Factors


Radiation exposure

Anyone exposed to radiation from a blast of an atomic bomb or lower levels of radiation had a bigger risk of getting bone marrow cancer.

Chemical exposure

Anyone exposed to benzene, asbestos, pesticides, and other chemicals used in manufacturing rubber could be at a greater risk for developing this cancer.

Family history

Some families have history of multiple bone marrow cancer.

For anyone who has a parent or sibling with this cancer, his risk is four times higher. Most patients still have no relatives affected, so this only accounts for a small number of cases.

Anyone with a history of a solitary plasmacytoma of the bone is at a bigger risk for developing multiple myeloma.

Disease-related factors

The American Cancer Society did a study that found being obese or overweight will increase someone’s risk of developing bone marrow cancer.

A lot of people with monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance may develop this cancer eventually.

Lowered immunity

Anyone that takes medicines to lower immunity after an organ transplant could increase their risk by three times.

It is reported that people who have HIV have a higher risk of bone marrow cancer.

Others risk factors

The bone marrow cancer risk goes higher as you age. Just Less than 1% cases of bone marrow cancer are diagnosed in people under 35 years old. People over 65 are the high risk group.

Men are a bit more likely to develop multiple myeloma than women are.

Ethnicity also plays a role. Although it is still yet to understand, bone marrow cancer is twice as common for African Americans than white Americans. It is not known why.

Treatments for Bone Marrow Cancer

For bone cancer, there is no cure. However the right treatments can help you relieve the pain, control any possible complications, stabilize your condition and place your disease into remission.

1. Targeted Therapy

Targeted drug treatment focuses on particular abnormalities in cancer cells which let them survive. Carfilzomib and Bortezomib can stop the action of a substance in myeloma cells which break down proteins. The action leads to the death of myeloma cells. Both can be given to you through a vein in your arm.

2. Biological Therapy

These drugs use your immune system to fight off the bone marrow cancer cells. The drugs lenalidomide, thalidomide and pomalidomide not only enhance your immune system but also identify and attack the cancer cells. You can take these medications in the form of a pill.

3. Chemotherapy

These drugs kill cells that are fast-growing which includes myeloma cells. The drugs can be administered through a vein in your arm or in pill form. Big doses of chemotherapy are used before you go through a stem cell transplant.

4. Radiation Therapy

It uses beams of energy such as X-rays to damage myeloma cells and halts their growth. Radiation therapy might be used to shrink myeloma cells quickly in a particular area, such as when a collection of abnormal plasma cells forms a tumor which is causing pain or destroying a bone.

5. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle

  • Keeping a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise will help you stay healthy, raise your energy level, improve your mood and protect your bones.
  • Get plenty of rest each night and take naps or breaks each day if you need to regain some energy.
  • Use good days to do the things you enjoy the most and ask for help when you need it. You can seek out support groups which will help you and your family to manage this disease.

6. Stem Cell/Bone Marrow Transplantation

With this method, your diseased bone marrow is replaced with healthy bone marrow. Take a look at the following video to see how it works, what types of transplantation there are, how to pick a treatment center and some other information that is related: