How did I contract multiple myeloma?

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Alvin Danenberg, DDS, announced to his blog readers in September that he'd been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. In this column, he raises questions every dental team member should ask themselves about the health risks they may face while serving their patients and their community.

Since my diagnosis, I have asked myself "How did I contract multiple myeloma?" This is a rare disease. For 2018, the American Cancer Society estimates about 31,000 new cases of multiple myeloma will be diagnosed in the U.S.

My oncologist tells me that multiple myeloma has no known cause. However, he is convinced that my current nutrition and lifestyle kept me healthy for as long as it could.

I am facing my mortality, but I am not succumbing to conventional statistics. At this time, I am leading my life as if I am going to solve my challenge. However, I have racked my brain to figure out what may have occurred in my life to effect malignant changes in my plasma cells.

No known cause

While most peer-reviewed studies state there is no known cause, this summary paper from the John Snow Center for Environmental Studies stated that there is some research suggesting that ionizing radiation may cause plasma cells to become malignant. Interestingly, a study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine (November 2014, Vol. 57:11, pp. 1255-1264) found that male dentists age 50 to 79 had a higher risk for multiple myeloma compared with the general population.

Additional research from the journal Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology (July 7, 2015) suggests that cancer is a mitochondrial metabolic disease and not a genetic disease. Other research from Environmental Health Perspectives (August 15, 2014) noted that diet, lifestyle, and toxic exposure can damage mitochondrial function, which increases metabolic disease. Understanding this concept, I have embarked on a health plan to repair and rebuild my mitochondria and my immune system naturally -- not through chemotherapy.

Contributing factors

I cannot prove what caused multiple myeloma to manifest in my body. Initial damage to my plasma cells could go back decades before the emergence of clinical signs and symptoms of this bone marrow cancer. But, I have some ideas. Insults to my body, which have been cumulative over time, may have initiated and advanced this disease.

My dental training and specialty training lasted six continuous years in the early 1970s. As a dental student working in open clinics for these years, I could have been exposed to the ionizing radiation produced by dental x-ray machines.

I do not know how well I personally was protected from dental radiation in the clinics. This is ionizing radiation. It is very possible I had excessive and continuous low-grade exposure during the course of my six years of professional training.

As a dental student, we learned to repair dental decay with amalgam fillings. Amalgam fillings are made with elemental mercury. As students, we played with mercury in our hands. Excess elemental mercury was thrown on the floor.

Mercury vapor was all around us 24/7 in the dental school. I had no idea of the potential toxic effects from mercury exposure way back then. I certainly was exposed to excessive elemental mercury during my years as a dental student.

And then, toxic elements in my environment could have compounded my toxic load to my plasma cells.

The development of multiple myeloma

Medical doctors have known that multiple myeloma begins with one unhealthy plasma cell in the bone marrow. This unhealthy cell is able to multiply rapidly because it will not mature and die naturally. This malignant cell produces more malignant cells that eventually overwhelm the production of other healthy marrow cells. Specifically, malignant plasma cells crowd out healthy white and red blood cells. This can lead to fatigue, anemia, internal bleeding, a decrease in the ability of the immune system to fight infections, and an increase in bone destruction.

Multiple myeloma cells produce abnormal antibodies that the body cannot use. In time, these abnormal and nonfunctional antibodies accumulate in the body replacing healthy antibody production. Ultimately, the body succumbs.

A mitochondrial metabolic disease

If multiple myeloma is a mitochondrial metabolic disease, then improving mitochondrial function and therapeutically changing what can damage these mitochondria could be an important and effective method of treatment. My alternative treatment plan is based on these methods. Time will tell if my active treatment plan is able to take this potentially debilitating and deadly disease and place it into remission or not.

I will update my progress and experiences regularly.

Alvin Danenberg, DDS, practices at the Bluffton Center for Dentistry in Bluffton, SC. He is also on the faculty of the College of Integrative Medicine and created its integrative periodontal teaching module. He also spent two years as chief of periodontics at Charleston Air Force Base earlier in his career. His website is

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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