Courtesy of Roswell Park Cancer Talk Blog

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the body’s immune system cells. Symptoms of the disease include holes in the bones (osteolytic lesions), kidney failure, low blood counts, and high levels of calcium in the blood. Patients’ life expectancy varies depending on the disease’s spread in the body, a patient’s response to treatment, kidney function, overall health, and levels of certain proteins and other substances in the blood. “I have seen patients live from several weeks to more than 20 years after being diagnosed,” said Jens Hillengass, MD, Chief of Myeloma Research at Roswell Park.

Multiple myeloma patients undergo continuous treatments with phases of stronger and less-strong therapy to achieve periods of normal life. This involves drugs to kill the malignant cells directly, medications that engage the immune system to attack cancer cells, and treatments to attack the myeloma cells based on their specific characteristics. Treatments can consist of daily pills, weekly or monthly infusions, and focus on using the patient’s own immune system itself, or in combination with cellular therapies that fight the cancer.

According to Dr. Hillengass, patients in a maintenance phase can often live a relatively normal life. However, the disease often returns, requiring a change in treatment. Symptoms often involve pain from bone destruction requiring pain medication. Other symptoms include treatment side effects such as fatigue, which can be treated with physical exercise.

While the cause of and cure for multiple myeloma is unknown, Dr. Hillengass notes that there are several risk factors, including exposure to chemicals such as agent orange and radiation. First responders of 9/11 are also at greater risk, and there are also rare cases of more than one myeloma patient in a family. Dr. Hillengass also notes that all myeloma patients have had a precancerous condition called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance. “Oftentimes this is not detected, but these individuals have a risk of about 1 percent per year to develop myeloma,” he says.

Roswell Park multiple myeloma providers are members of the National Comprehensive Care Network, the International Myeloma Working Group, and the International Myeloma Foundation Nurse Leadership Board. In addition to the standard of care outlined by these groups, providers offer treatments based on scientific findings presented at research meetings.

They participate in multicenter clinical trials and develop clinical trials involving unique therapies unavailable elsewhere. Since multiple myeloma is considered a chronic incurable disease, providers are continuing to work on finding a cure and adding new treatments to prolong, preserve, and improve patients’ life quality.

At Roswell Park, the team credo is, “Our team will do everything that we can to find a cure for multiple myeloma. Furthermore, it is our goal to improve your quality of life and help you to achieve milestones while on your journey, via access to cutting-edge treatment and clinical trials. Together, we can change the way the world views myeloma.”

Learn more about multiple myeloma at To make an appointment to be seen at Roswell, call 1-800-767-9355.