Dr Ira Laketic-Ljubojevic
Director of Healthcare Advocacy Services
A fifth of myeloma patients are diagnosed due to kidney problems. In the most severe cases they present with kidney failure, one of the major causes of death in myeloma.
“When people think of blood cancer, they don’t automatically think kidney health,” says Director of Healthcare Advocacy Services, Dr Ira Laketic-Ljubojevic. “However, kidney problems are common in myeloma and if they are not treated early, kidney damage can be permanent. For these patients, quality of life is reduced, and survival is limited.”
What is myeloma?
Each year in the UK, approximately 5,700 people are diagnosed with myeloma, a blood cancer arising from faulty plasma cells. Whilst treatable, myeloma is not curable. Treatments can effectively control the myeloma, relieving symptoms and improving quality of life, but patients inevitably relapse and require further treatment.
Myeloma can affect your body in several ways and can cause a number of different medical problems including bone pain, fatigue, persistent infections and kidney problems.
Most of these medical problems are caused by the build-up of the faulty plasma cells in the bone marrow and the presence of abnormal proteins in the body.
Myeloma and the kidney
Myeloma kidney disease is a common and a potentially serious complication of myeloma. It affects a fifth of patients at diagnosis and up to 40% of patients over the course of their disease.
It is treatable and, in some cases, the kidney can fully recover once myeloma is treated. However, some patients will need ongoing dialysis and in severe cases, it results in kidney failure – one of the major causes of death in myeloma.
As myeloma becomes more advanced, the build-up of abnormal proteins made by the faulty plasma cells form blockages in the kidney and reduce its function. On top of this, other medical problems caused by myeloma, such as high blood calcium and infections, can further damage the kidney.
Laketic-Ljubojevic adds “How well the kidney responds to treatment depends on how badly the kidney is damaged. The best way to prevent permanent damage is through earlier diagnosis of both myeloma and myeloma kidney disease.”
Knowing and spotting the signs of poor kidney health such as fatigue, changes in urination, swelling in the face or ankles, and feeling thirsty are an important strategy to prevent myeloma kidney disease.
Early diagnosis is critical to preventing kidney damage
Unfortunately, many myeloma patients experience delays to diagnosis. This is largely due to the vague and non-specific symptoms that patients present when they visit their GP. In fact, half of myeloma patients visit their GP three or more times: double the average of all other cancers.
“The longer patients wait for diagnosis, the higher the chances of having complications like myeloma kidney disease are. Diagnosing myeloma early means that patients start treatment sooner, which helps prevent permanent kidney damage,” Laketic-Ljubojevic states. “So, it is critical that we raise awareness of myeloma and make people aware of the symptoms.”
Awareness can identify myeloma kidney disease sooner
Myeloma kidney disease can be difficult to spot, and some patients have no symptoms in the early stages. For those that do, many of the signs of poor kidney function – like fatigue – are similar to myeloma symptoms and treatment side effects. As a result, patients are continuously monitored for kidney problems after diagnosis.
However, knowing and spotting the signs of poor kidney health such as fatigue, changes in urination, swelling in the face or ankles, and feeling thirsty are an important strategy to prevent myeloma kidney disease.
Myeloma UK has a range of educational programmes for patients and healthcare professionals to raise awareness of myeloma, its combination of symptoms, and potential complications. Through this work, we are helping to prevent severe complications so patients can live longer and with the best possible quality of life.