Have you observed vague symptoms of fatigue, weakness, weight loss, bone pain and broken bones recently? Are you above 40 years of age and/or have a history of HIV?

If so, you should see your primary care physician and ask for a referral to a hematologist as you are at risk of having a form of blood cancer called plasma cell neoplasm and early detection is key to positive outcomes.

The hematologist will likely perform a procedure called bone marrow biopsy which is then sent to a pathology laboratory. The biopsy is then reviewed by a hematopathologist, a board-certified doctor that studies the diseases affecting the blood and organs in charge of blood production. The diagnosis is then sent to your specialty physician enabling targeted treatment. 

Plasma cell neoplasms are a family of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells named “plasma cells.” They are in charge of the production of some proteins in the blood and urine. In many cases, this condition can lead to a common cancer known as myeloma.

Myeloma was discovered many years ago and one of the most famous cases was that of Thomas Alexander McBean, a London grocer in the mid-1800s. According to records, he jumped out of a cavern while vacationing and then “instantly felt as if something had snapped or given way within the chest, and for some minutes he lay in intense agony, unable to stir. Dr. Bence Jones discovered that Mr. McBean had an abnormal, unknown protein in the urine which related to myeloma. Sadly, Mr. McBean was diagnosed at late stage and died of the disease. 

It is often very difficult to diagnose myeloma as the symptoms are not very specific; however, early detection is of utmost importance in improving outcomes. Fortunately, the advances of science and recent discoveries have enhanced the survival rate with novel therapies that may render this condition a controllable chronic, if not curable disease when detected early. 

As a hematopathologist – especially in the Coachella Valley due to its demographics, I have been diagnosing plasma cell neoplasms very regularly over the last few years. It is my hope that enhanced awareness about this disease will lead to early diagnosis for many and help save lives.

Dr. Bohn is a board-certified pathologist and hematopathologist and medical director of Diagnostix Premium Pathology Partners, Inc in Palm Desert, CA. For more information contact Diagnostix at [email protected] or (412) 805.2097. 

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