What is Multiple Myeloma?
Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer. It’s cancer that occurs when normal plasma cells (cells that make antibodies that attack and kill germs that invade your immune system) multiply and develop out of control – apart from the use for which they were intended. Usually, plasma cells are among many blood cells found in the soft center of bones, in a place called the bone marrow. But in multiple myeloma patients, plasma cells appear in unusual quantities and sometimes form plasmacytomas or tumors usually found inside the bones.
As a result of the plasma cell growth, multiple myeloma patients may experience anemia (low blood count) because the plasma cells multiply in such a way that they crowd out healthy red blood cell production. White blood cell production may also become limited, and since white blood cells help to fight infection throughout the body, multiple myeloma patients may see an increase in infections that the body seems unable to fight.
Progression of the Disease
The additional plasma cells also prevent new bone structures from forming when the old bone breaks down, resulting in unexpected fractures – those unrelated to external bumps and falls. Multiple myeloma is treatable, meaning there are therapeutic options such as chemotherapy, radiation, and stem cell transplantation for medical science to attempt control over the out-of-control cell growth. Sometimes patients can live for years with active symptoms. However, sometimes the cell growth simply is or becomes resistant to all available treatments and patients may need to turn to other forms of care as the disease progresses.
Palliative Care for Multiple Myeloma Patients
Palliative care is a medical specialty that focuses on pain relief and symptom control rather than curing an illness. The point of palliative care for multiple myeloma patients is to enhance the patient’s overall quality of life, allowing people to feel as good as possible. A palliative care team may focus on drug treatments to help manage bone pain typical in multiple myeloma patients as well as nausea and other forms of physical discomfort and distress.
Multiple myeloma patients also frequently suffer from reduced kidney function or failure because of the imbalanced presence of plasma cells in the blood. As the kidneys filter blood, they may become blocked by excess calcium buildup and require dialysis for comfort.
Hospice for Multiple Myeloma Patients
Hospice care is a specialized form of palliative care that is available to patients during the end of life. Hospice also focuses on enhancing the quality of life rather than trying to extend it. In many cases, pursuing additional treatments such as invasive treatments or difficult chemotherapy treatments can harm the patient’s quality of life and may not provide any benefits to combating the disease.
The goal of hospice for cancer patients is to feel as good as possible for as long as possible. Therefore, hospice patients may receive dialysis to manage the excessive calcium blocks in the kidneys, but the treatment is mainly to help patients feel well and remain mentally oriented (excess calcium often causes disorientation in patients, rendering them unable to engage in conversation or other relational activities). By making patients more comfortable, they can enjoy life more fully during the time that they have remaining.
Experiencing a Peaceful Passing
Accounts of those who have accompanied a loved one as they died from complications of multiple myeloma generally report a relatively calm death in which pain has been effectively managed. Hospice providers work with physicians to measure the experience of pain a patient suffers and provide medications to alleviate discomfort while also helping them achieve their other quality-of-life goals. Most hospice and palliative teams aim to provide care that helps patients to remain coherent, and not comatose during their final days.
Many patients make it clear that maintaining connections with their loved ones is a priority during the end of life and this can be possible for multiple myeloma patients who elect hospice care as their disease continues to progress.
Traditions Health Is Ready to Support You!
For more information about how Traditions Health hospice or palliative care can benefit multiple myeloma patients, please fill out our Request Care form for more information on our compassionate care services.
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