Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer related to lymphoma and leukemia. Though it can’t usually be cured, there are treatments that slow down its spread.
What Is Multiple Myeloma?
In multiple myeloma, a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell multiplies unusually. Normally, they make antibodies that help fight infections. But in multiple myeloma, they release too much protein (called immunoglobulin) into the bones and blood. It builds up throughout the body, causing organ damage.
The plasma cells also crowd normal blood cells in the bone. They release chemicals that dissolve bone. The weak areas of bone created by this are called lytic lesions.
As multiple myeloma gets worse, those plasma cells begin to spill out of the bone marrow and spread through the body. This causes more organ damage.
No one knows what causes multiple myeloma. But certain things can raise your chances of having it:
- Being older than 65
- Being African-American
- Having a family member with it
People with these other plasma cell diseases are more likely to get multiple myeloma:
- Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS)
- Solitary plasmacytoma
Early on, multiple myeloma may cause no symptoms. As time passes, you may have:
- Bone pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Weight loss
In rare cases, plasma cells may form purplish lumps that you can see underneath the skin. Your doctor may call them “extramedullary plasmacytomas.”
Your doctor may test you for multiple myeloma if a blood test reveals:
- Too much calcium in your blood (your doctor may call it “hypercalcemia”)
- Anemia (too few red blood cells)
- Kidney problems
- High protein levels in your blood combined with a low albumin level (your doctor may say you have a "globulin gap")
If your doctor thinks you have multiple myeloma, he’ll test your blood, urine, and bones. Some tests he may order include:
- Electrophoresis, which measures immunoglobulins (something your body makes when it’s fighting something)
- Blood urea nitrogen, also known as BUN, and creatinine -- to check how well your kidneys are working
- A CBC, which stands for complete blood count, which measures and counts the cells in your blood