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What is multiple myeloma? A look at form of cancer MP Jim Carr is facing

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg MP Jim Carr diagnosed with form of blood cancer' Winnipeg MP Jim Carr diagnosed with form of blood cancer
ABOVE: Winnipeg MP Jim Carr diagnosed with form of blood cancer – Oct 25, 2019

Liberal MP Jim Carr announced Friday that he has been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer that affects a type of white blood cell called the plasma cell.

The federal minister said he has started chemotherapy and dialysis that will “continue for the near future,” noting the disease has also affected his kidneys.

READ MORE: Jim Carr, Winnipeg MP and Liberal minister, diagnosed with cancer

Because myeloma cells multiply in the bone marrow and interfere with healthy red and white blood cells and platelets, the disease affects several parts of the body.

Here’s a brief look at multiple myeloma:

 What is multiple myeloma?

Multiple myeloma is the most common type of plasma cell cancer in which abnormal plasma cells can form tumours in the bones and bone marrow, which is the spongy tissue found inside bones.

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The buildup of myeloma cells causes fewer normal blood cells in the bone marrow, weakened or damaged bones, bone pain and infection.

READ MORE: Nearly $10,000 raised in Kingston’s first Multiple Myeloma March

How common is it?

An estimated 21,000 Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with blood cancer in 2019, representing about 10 per cent of all cancer diagnoses. Out of those, an estimated 3,300 Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

What are the symptoms?

Multiple myeloma may not cause any signs in its early stages, with symptoms often only appearing once the tumour grows in or outside the bone marrow.

Some of the most common signs are referred to as CRAB: high blood calcium level; kidney problems (or renal insufficiency); anemia; and bone disease.

They can also include fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness and paleness caused by low red blood cell counts, frequent infections, fever, extreme thirst, a need to urinate often, weight loss, headaches, oozing from cuts, and blurred vision.

What is the treatment?

According to a report last month from the Canadian Cancer Society, over a 20-year period the five-year survival rate increase for common types of blood cancer outpaced all other cancers largely thanks to improvements in precision medicine.

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But multiple myeloma can’t be cured. The goal of treatment is reducing symptoms, slowing progression of the disease and putting it into remission.

Treatments vary by individual but the standard ones are chemotherapy, radiation and targeted therapy, which uses drugs to target specific molecules on the surface of cancer cells to stop their growth and spread.

For people whose cancer comes back after their first treatment, or if other treatments no longer work, they may be a candidate for stem cell transplant. In this case, high-dose chemotherapy kills all of the cells in the bone marrow — including the myeloma cells — and then healthy stem cells are used to replace them.

Click to play video: 'What is multiple myeloma?' What is multiple myeloma?
What is multiple myeloma? – Oct 11, 2018

What’s the prognosis?

Survival varies with each stage of multiple myeloma. While it often responds to treatment in the beginning, in most cases the disease comes back.

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People who have a lower stage of multiple myeloma usually have a better prognosis, and younger people have a better prognosis than older people. People whose kidneys aren’t working well have a poor prognosis and those who are able to withstand intensive treatments may have a better outcome but have more side effects.

Doctors can predict who is most likely to have the best or worst outcome based on the number and type of chromosomal changes and the results of certain blood tests can also determine prognosis.

Click to play video: 'Blood Cancer Survival Rates' Blood Cancer Survival Rates
Blood Cancer Survival Rates – Sep 4, 2019

What’s the survival rate?

In Canada, the five-year net survival for multiple myeloma is 44 per cent.

Source: The Canadian Cancer Society

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