Multiple Myeloma

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Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer that affects the bone marrow, the body's blood-forming system. In this disease, the plasma cells (a type of white blood cell) become abnormal and multiply rapidly. This causes them to interfere with the production of normal blood cells.

The plasma cells make an abnormal protein that is sent into the blood and urine. In the blood, these proteins are called monoclonal proteins (M proteins) or paraproteins. In the urine, they are called Bence Jones proteins.

If these proteins build up in large amounts, the kidneys may have trouble processing all of the protein. This may cause the kidneys to stop working as well as they should. Multiple myeloma cells also can eat away at areas of bone, putting these bones at higher risk of fracture.

Many organs can be affected by myeloma; therefore, the signs symptoms vary greatly. The mnemonic CRAB is often used to remember some of the common symptoms: C = calcium (elevated), R = renal failure, A = anemia, B = bone lesions.

Multiple myeloma is uncommon. According to the National Cancer Institute, it affects about 21,000 people each year in the United States. Although its exact cause is unknown, multiple myeloma can be controlled in most patients, sometimes for many years. The development of new drugs has helped manage multiple myeloma in a larger number of patients and has resulted in longer average times of survival.

At Banner MD Anderson, we help patients with multiple myeloma by offering a variety of treatments, as well as a range of clinical trials (research studies) of newer drugs and therapies. Our myeloma experts work closely with you to tailor the treatments that will best fight the disease, while focusing on your quality of life.

Learn More About Multiple Myeloma

The exact cause of multiple myeloma is not known and no avoidable risk factors have been found. However, certain things appear to make you more likely to develop multiple myeloma.

  • Age: Over 65
  • Gender: Men are slightly more likely to develop multiple myeloma
  • Race: African Americans are twice as likely as white Americans to develop multiple myeloma
  • Radiation exposure
  • Obesity
  • Other plasma cell diseases: If you have had one of the following you are at higher risk:
    • A precancerous condition called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS)
    • A single tumor of plasma cells (solitary plasmacytoma)

Not everyone with risk factors gets multiple myeloma. However, if you have risk factors, it’s a good idea to discuss them with your doctor.

Most cancers have the same symptoms as other, less serious conditions. Still, it’s important to know the signs, especially since there are three stages of myeloma.

View multiple myeloma symptoms

Blood tests, imaging exams and even surgical procedures are used to check for cancer.

View multiple myeloma diagnosis 

Common cancer treatments include chemotherapy, radiation treatment and surgery. Doctors select the treatment for breast cancer based on your diagnosis and disease stage.

Learn more on multiple myeloma treatment