Multiple myeloma (MM), a cancer that forms in the plasma cells, can have a profound effect on a patient’s physical well-being. The pain, weakness, and frailty associated with MM and its treatment can cause significant strain to a patient’s overall lifestyle.
Patients with MM may find it difficult to maintain a similar day-to-day routine to the one they had prior to diagnosis, leading to an increased risk for stress and depression. Recently, there have been studies published about the effects of multiple myeloma on lifestyle, including an October 2021 study in Blood Cancer Journal.¹ What are some of the notable lifestyle factors affected by MM?
One lifestyle factor the researchers examined was physical activity, noting that while it is often encouraged in patients with other forms of cancer, MM may make physical activities more difficult. Their research suggested that only a small percentage of patients with MM were considered physically active, and that moderate-intensity exercise decreased significantly from pre-diagnosis to post-diagnosis. The researchers also found that patients with multiple myeloma were often less interested in participating in an exercise program designed for their condition than patients with other cancers.
MM can often make patients feel significant fatigue, as well as bone pain and nausea that make them less inclined to exercise consistently. Despite this, the researchers felt that there were feasible exercises that patients with MM could partake in that may potentially help them with fatigue and mood. Health care professionals working with patients with MM will want to work on developing an exercise regimen that can reduce their patient’s fatigue while also keeping in mind safety.
Diet and Obesity
The researchers also noted that diet and obesity can have an effect on and be influenced by MM. The aforementioned lack of physical activity in many patients with MM has the potential to lead to weight gain, which the investigators suggest can impact the likelihood of survival. They also note the usage of high-dose corticosteroids in MM treatments, which may increase appetite and weight gain.
As a result, the researchers believe that diet management should be part of an MM treatment regimen. Many patients with multiple myeloma are deficient in nutrients such as vitamin D and vitamin B12. Modifying patients’ diets to focus on nutrition may help quality of life and outcomes.
Patients with cancer have an increased likelihood of sleep disturbances, and MM is no exception. The researchers note MM-specific pain and corticosteroid usage as factors that can cause sleep issues in patients with MM. They also note the psychological burden of a multiple myeloma diagnosis: patients may also have anxiety and depression, which are also associated with difficulty sleeping. Chronic sleep disturbances can exacerbate existing MM symptoms such as fatigue, which can in turn affect physical activity and obesity. Health care professionals should discuss sleep with their patients, and work with them to create improved sleep practices. The researchers suggest changes such as avoiding caffeine and utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy and meditation.
One lifestyle factor patients may not initially consider in the midst of their multiple myeloma diagnosis is sexual activity. MM symptoms and treatments can have a significant effect on sexual activity, which can negatively impact a patient’s anxiety and quality of life. Some treatments for MM can potentially cause sexual dysfunction, such as difficulty maintaining erections or vaginal dryness.² Multiple myeloma symptoms like pain, fatigue, and nausea can make it difficult to maintain consistent sexual activity, as can the subsequent anxiety and depression from an MM diagnosis.
If patients bring up sexual dysfunction and it is safe for them to have sex, discuss their emotional and physical difficulties to try and determine if there are recommended treatments for them.
1. Shapiro YN, Peppercorn JM, Yee AJ, et al. Lifestyle considerations in multiple myeloma. Blood Cancer J. 11, 172 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41408-021-00560-x
2. Multiple myeloma and your sex life. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/multiple-myeloma/sex-life#what-to-know. Updated February 10, 2022. Accessed March 23, 2022.