Plasma cells help your body fight infection by producing proteins called antibodies. In multiple myeloma, plasma cells grow out of control in the bone marrow and form tumors in the areas of solid bone.
The growth of these bone tumors makes it harder for the bone marrow to make healthy blood cells and platelets.
Multiple myeloma mainly affects older adults. Past treatment with radiation therapy raises your risk for this type of cancer.
Multiple myeloma causes a low red blood cell count (anemia). This makes you more likely to get infections and have abnormal bleeding.
As the cancer cells grow in the bone marrow, bone or back pain, most often in the ribs or back.
If the bones in the spine are affected, it can put pressure on the nerves, resulting in numbness or weakness of the arms or legs.
Other symptoms include:
Brittle bones that are more likely to break
Fatigue due to anemia
Fevers without any other cause
Shortness of breath due to anemia
Signs and tests
Blood tests can help diagnose this disease. Some are:
Total protein level
Kidney function blood tests
Complete blood count (CBC)
Blood and urine tests to check to identify proteins, or antibodies (immunofixation)
Blood tests to quickly and accurately measure the specific level of certain proteins called immunoglobulins (nephelometry)
This list is not all-inclusive.
Bone x-rays may show fractures or hollowed out areas of bone. If your doctor suspects this type of cancer, a bone marrow biopsy will be performed.
Bone density testing may show bone loss.
People who have mild disease or where the diagnosis is not certain are often closely watched without treatment. Some people have a slow-developing form of multiple myeloma that takes years to cause symptoms.
Medications for the treatment of multiple myeloma include:
Dexamethasone, melphalan, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, thalidomide, lenalidomide (Revlimid), and bortezomib (Velcade) can be used alone or combined together.
Bisphosphonates (pamidronate or zoledronic acid) to reduce bone pain and prevent fractures.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.