What is myeloma screening?
Myeloma screening is a series of tests that may include blood, urine and bone marrow tests and X-rays or scans of your bones to diagnose myeloma cancer.
What is myeloma?
Myeloma is a blood cancer. It arises from a type of white blood cell made in your bone marrow, called plasma cells. Your bone marrow is a spongy material located in the centre of your larger bones. It is where all blood cells are made.
Myeloma happens if your DNA is damaged when developing a plasma cell. This abnormal cell then multiplies and spreads within your bone marrow. Abnormal plasma cells release a large amount of an antibody known as paraprotein. Most myeloma problems are caused by a build-up of abnormal plasma cells in your bone marrow and the paraprotein in the body. Myeloma often affects several body areas such as your spine, skull, pelvis and ribs and so it is also referred to as multiple myeloma.
When is a myeloma screen required?
A myeloma screen is required if you are showing symptoms or abnormal blood or urine test results that could be due to myeloma. If your GP thinks you may have signs and symptoms of myeloma, they will usually refer you to a haematologist who specialises in the study of blood and blood-related disorders.
Symptoms of myeloma include:
- Bone pain is the most common symptom. It often feels like a dull ache in your lower back or ribs and is caused by a lot of plasma cells collecting there.
- Weak bones that break or fracture easily as the plasma cells can damage your bones.
- Tiredness, weakness and shortness of breath due to anaemia. The abnormal plasma cells push out your normal cells and leave you with not enough red blood cells.
- Repeated infections that might take longer to get better. With myeloma, you have a reduced number of healthy white blood cells to fight bacteria or viruses.
- Spinal cord compression when pressure on your spinal cord stops the nerves from working normally.
- Kidney problems are a later symptom of myeloma. The large amounts of antibody protein made by the abnormal plasma cells can damage your kidneys and cause nausea, loss of appetite and weight loss, dehydration, tiredness and swollen ankles, feet and hands.
What is a multiple myeloma screen?
A multiple myeloma screen uses three main tests to investigate and diagnose myeloma.
- Urine and blood tests - performed regularly to measure your level of paraprotein and the different cells in your blood. They include:
- Red blood cell count - a low count shows you are anaemic
- White blood cell counts - low counts can indicate a greater risk of infection/li>
- Platelet count - a low count shows an increased risk of bleeding or bruising more easily than normal.
- Imaging tests – X-rays can detect bone damage. MRI or CT scans can provide more detail and show bone damaged areas that are not so easily detected by X-ray.
- Bone marrow biopsy – a small biopsy sample of your bone marrow is examined under a microscope to determine the amount of normal and abnormal plasma cells.
If you have a diagnosis of myeloma, some of these tests will be repeated regularly to monitor your myeloma over time.
How long does a myeloma screen take?
The time it takes to perform a myeloma screen varies from person to person. It depends on the test results of each part of the investigation, whether additional tests are required for further clarification and the agreed length of time to regularly monitor your paraprotein levels. Each part of the screen, for example, blood tests, X-rays and biopsy take less than 30 minutes each to perform.
You may get the results of some tests quickly, such as your full blood count. However, some test results such as genetics and biopsy tests might take several weeks. Many people feel anxious during this waiting time. The staff at our Ramsay hospitals are available to answer any questions you might have during this uncertain time. We endeavour to book myeloma tests as soon as possible and we have a fast turnaround of test results.
Myeloma screening at Ramsay Health Care UK
It’s important to get any symptoms of myeloma checked out by a doctor as soon as possible. Our conveniently located Ramsay hospitals offer screening for myeloma without waiting with expert haematologists.
You can read more about our cancer care and treatments or please get in touch if you’d like to talk to us about any concerns.