American Society of Hematology

Myeloma

Myeloma is cancer of the plasma cells. Plasma cells are white blood cells that produce disease- and infection-fighting antibodies in your body. Myeloma cells prevent the normal production of antibodies, leaving your body's immune system weakened and susceptible to infection. The multiplication of myeloma cells also interferes with the normal production and function of red and white blood cells. An abnormally high amount of these dysfunctional antibodies in the bloodstream can cause kidney damage. Additionally, the myeloma cells commonly produce substances that cause bone destruction, leading to bone pain and/or fractures.

Myeloma cells are produced in the bone marrow, the soft tissue inside your bones. Sometimes myeloma cells will travel through your blood stream and collect in other bones in your body. Because myeloma frequently occurs at many sites in the bone marrow, it is often referred to as multiple myeloma.

Am I at Risk?

Signs and symptoms of myeloma include the following:

  • Hypercalcemia (excessive calcium in the blood)
  • Anemia (shortage or reduced function of red blood cells)
  • Renal damage (kidney failure)
  • Susceptibility to infection
  • Osteoporosis, bone pain, bone swelling or fracture
  • High protein levels in the blood and/or urine
  • Weight loss

Myeloma occurs more frequently in the following populations:

  • African-American
  • Over the age of 50
  • Male
  • Obese
  • Exposed to radiation
  • Work in petroleum-related industries
back to top

How Is Myeloma Treated?

If you have myeloma, there are many treatment options available that slow the growth of the myeloma cells and help ease bone pain, fatigue, and other symptoms associated with the disease. The type of treatment depends on your health and the type and stage of myeloma.

Treatment options for myeloma include the following:

For some patients, participating in a clinical trial provides access to experimental therapies. If you are diagnosed with myeloma, talk with your doctor about whether joining a clinical trial is right for you.

back to top

Is Myeloma Preventable?

Because doctors have yet to pinpoint what causes myeloma, there is no certain way to prevent it. Be aware of the risks and symptoms, especially if you have a family history of myeloma.

If you are experiencing symptoms or are at risk for myeloma, talk with your doctor about detection and treatment. Depending on your physical condition, genetics, and medical history, you may be referred to a hematologist, a doctor who specializes in blood conditions.

back to top

Where Can I Find More Information?

If you find that you are interested in learning more about blood diseases and disorders, here are a few other resources that may be of some help:

Results of Clinical Studies Published in Blood

Search Blood, the official journal of ASH, for the results of the latest blood research. While recent articles generally require a subscriber login, patients interested in viewing an access-controlled article in Blood may obtain a copy by e-mailing a request to the Blood Publishing Office.

Patient Groups

A list of Web links to patient groups and other organizations that provide information.

back to top