Rapper Guru, born Keith Elam, died at the age of 47 after a year long (2010) battle with multiple myeloma cancer. Guru, a member of the duo Gang Starr, was a seminal figure in the hip-hop and rap scene of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Guru chose to keep his illness private, although he has been in and out of hospitals in the last year with various complications from his disease.
Multiple myeloma is a cancer of your plasma cells, a type of white blood cell present in your bone marrow. Plasma cells normally make proteins called antibodies to help you fight infections.
Signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma can vary from person to person. Early in the disease, the condition may not cause any symptoms (smoldering multiple myeloma). As the disease progresses, it’s likely that you’ll experience at least one of the four major problems common to multiple myeloma, which include:
- A high level of calcium in your blood. This can occur when calcium from affected bones appears in your blood. High calcium levels cause excessive thirst, nausea, constipation, loss of appetite and confusion.
- Kidney (renal) failure. High levels of certain types of abnormal monoclonal proteins (M proteins), which are called light chains or Bence Jones proteins, damage the kidneys.
- Anemia-related fatigue. This fatigue occurs as myeloma cells replace oxygen-carrying red blood cells in your bone marrow.
- Bone damage and fractures. The type of bone damage in multiple myeloma is referred to as “osteolytic” or “lytic,” and appears as “punched out” spots on X-rays. Bone pain is a common symptom, particularly in your back, pelvis, ribs and skull.
Although the exact cause isn’t known, doctors do know that multiple myeloma begins with one abnormal plasma cell in your bone marrow — the soft, blood-producing tissue that fills in the center of most of your bones. This abnormal cell then starts to multiply.
Because abnormal cancerous cells don’t mature and then die as normal cells do, they accumulate, eventually overwhelming the production of healthy cells. In healthy bone marrow, less than 5 percent of the cells are plasma cells. But in people with multiple myeloma, more than 10 percent of the cells may be plasma cells.
Because myeloma cells may circulate in low numbers in your blood, they can populate bone marrow in other parts of your body, even far from where they began. That’s why the disease is called multiple myeloma. Uncontrolled plasma cell growth can damage bones and surrounding tissue. It can also interfere with your immune system’s ability to fight infections by inhibiting your body’s production of normal antibodies.