What is Multiple Myeloma?
Multiple myeloma starts with one or more changes to the DNA of a single stem cell in the bone marrow. Stem cells form blood cells (white cells, red cells and platelets).
Myeloma develops in a white blood cell called a B cell. Some B cells transform plasma cells, which make antibodies – these are the cells that fight a wide range of infections. In myeloma, an injury to a B cell’s DNA causes an abnormal change that can start the transformation of a normal plasma cell into a cancerous cell. Because cancerous cells multiply at a faster rate than normal cells and don’t die when they should, one antibody will grow out of control and eventually crowd out other plasma cells.
If not treated, the myeloma cells can:
- crowd out functioning white cells, and the immune system can’t guard against infection effectively
- secrete high levels of protein in the blood and urine, which can lead to kidney damage
- build up in bone, causing it to weaken, which can lead to bone pain and fractures
Your immune system is made up of lymphocytes (T cells and B cells) that work together to fight infections and other diseases. When B cells respond to an infection, they mature and change into plasma cells. Plasma cells make the antibodies (also called immunoglobulins) that help the body attack and kill germs. Plasma cells are mainly found in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is the soft tissue inside some hollow bones. When plasma cells become cancerous and grow out of control, they can produce a tumor called a plasmacytoma. These tumors generally develop in a bone, but they are also rarely found in other tissues. If there is only a single plasma cell tumor, it is called an isolated (or solitary) plasmacytoma. When there is more than one plasma cell tumor, it is called multiple myeloma.
Source: Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, American Cancer Society
Common Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma
- Bone problems or bone breakages from a minor stress or injury
- Low blood counts which can cause anemia
- High blood calcium can cause frequent thirst, the need to drink a lot of fluids, and frequent urination. It can also cause dehydration and even kidney failure. High calcium can also cause severe constipation and loss of appetite.
- Bone destruction can cause weakness in the spine. If bones collapse, they can cause severe pain, numbness, and/or muscle weakness.
- Kidney problems caused by the myeloma protein
- Frequent infections. Myeloma patients are about 15 times more likely to get infections and may stay sick for longer period of time. Pneumonia is a common and serious infection.
To Learn More about Multiple Myeloma, read more here:
- Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma
- Types of Multiple Myeloma
- The right tests to accurately diagnose Multiple Myeloma
Videos About Multiple Myeloma
- Patient Power Videos, A video series about multiple myeloma from experts.
- Myeloma for Beginners – Understanding Myeloma, Dr. Graham Jackson, Royal Victoria Hospital
- I Have Myeloma. What is Next? An IMF video created for African Americans and other underserved communities, but applicable to all myeloma patients.
Online Articles About Multiple Myeloma
- What is Myeloma? An introduction by a medical news company in the UK
- Multiple Myeloma. The Wikipedia description
- What you need to know about multiple myeloma. A NIH publication. The National Institute of Health is a government agency that sponsors myeloma research.
- Multiple Myeloma. An online description of myeloma by WebMD
- Multiple Myeloma. A description by About.com