Last Review Date: April 6, 2017
Multiple myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells, the cells that produce . All blood cells develop in the from . Certain built in ‘growth factors’ cause the stem cells to differentiate into many types of blood cells. Plasma cells develop from B cells. If a stem cell that is destined to become a B cell is damaged, it may become (cancerous). The malignant cells then spread through the bone marrow to all the large bones of the body. Patients with myeloma often develop soft spots where the bone structure is damaged. The malignant plasma cells force out the normal cells and produce a substance that causes bone destruction.
Many patients with multiple myeloma show no symptoms for a long time. However, most patients eventually develop some clinical evidence of the disease such as lower back or rib pain, anaemia and fatigue. Diagnosis may be made when a routine full blood count (FBC) is abnormal, showing anaemia, an abnormal clumping of red blood cells (‘Rouleaux’), and white blood cell irregularities. Further testing is usually necessary to pinpoint the cause of the abnormal results. These tests may indicate an increase in serum or urine , with abnormal patterns on protein electrophoresis and immunofixation. In some patients, increased blood urea and creatinine due to decreased kidney function and high serum calcium (hypercalcaemia) due to bone destruction may occur. Examination of a bone marrow biopsy is required for a definitive diagnosis. Other tests may include x-ray and perhaps even or to show the soft spots in bones.
Current treatments may produce a complete remission (disappearance but not cure of the disease). These may include the use of high dose chemotherapy, targeted therapies, stem cell transplant and if required bisphosphonates to control bone erosion. A range of chemotherapy treatment options are now available. Other treatments include radiation therapies and immunotherapy, which stimulates the body’s own system to produce an immune response. Your doctor should determine your treatment based on the findings of your tests.
On this site
Tests: FBC, urea, creatinine, tumour markers, protein electrophoresis and immunofixation
Elsewhere on the web
Better Health Channel: Multiple myeloma
Cancer Council Victoria: Multiple myeloma
healthdirect Australia: Multiple myeloma
MedlinePlus - multiple myeloma
International Myeloma Foundation (USA)