What is multiple myeloma, a cancer that may have contributed to Gen. Colin Powell’s death?

As the nation mourns the death of Gen. Colin Powell from complications of COVID-19, multiple media outlets have reported that Powell had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

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According to CNN, a source has told them that Powell had cancer that attacks plasma cells.

NBC News reported it was not confirmed that multiple myeloma was the complication family members wrote about.

His aide, Peggy Cifrino, said he was successfully treated for multiple myeloma, The New York Times reported.

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A study released in July said that only 45% of those with multiple myeloma and who received either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines showed an adequate response, the Times reported.

The American Cancer Society explains that normal plasma cells are in the bone marrow and are part of the immune system that helps fight infections and other diseases.

In multiple myeloma, the plasma cells start growing out of control and make abnormal proteins. The cells also take over normal blood-forming cells.

Keep in mind, the American Cancer Society said there are other disorders that involve plasma cell abnormality but are not considered active multiple myeloma.

You can read about those conditions here.

Multiple myeloma can cause anemia or a shortage of red blood cells.

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It also decreases the amount of platelets in the blood, which can lead to more bleeding and bruising. The condition is called thrombocytopenia.

Multiple myeloma can also cause a shortage of normal white blood cells, known as leukopenia, which can lead to issues with fighting infections, the American Cancer Society said. When the white blood cells are crowded out, they cannot make antibodies, so an infection can’t be fought.

It can also damage bones by creating a substance that breaks down bone without new bone being created to replace it, which can also lead to an increase in calcium levels.

Additionally, multiple myeloma can attack the kidneys, leading to damage — and in some cases — kidney failure.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms include:

  • Bone pain, especially in the spine or chest
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mental fogginess or confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent infections
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness or numbness in the legs
  • Excessive thirst.

Sometimes the condition is treated by close monitoring if the patient isn’t showing any of the recognized symptoms. Treatments are available, however, for those who need it.

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Treatments include, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Corticosteroid treatment
  • Bone marrow transplant
  • Radiation therapy

Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a CNN medical analyst and professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, said Powell was vulnerable to COVID-19 because of his other health conditions.

“General Powell represented our most vulnerable population in this country. He was over the age of 80, he had cancer, and a treatment for his cancer made him vulnerable,” Reiner said Monday on CNN.

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CNN reported that multiple underlying medical conditions, like Powell had, as well as his age, puts those patients at risk of serious COVID-19 effects, even dying, despite being fully vaccinated against the virus.

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Powell was also diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003, the Times reported.