Multiple myeloma is a complex hematological cancer that develops in the bone marrow. Multiple myeloma is characterized by malignant plasma cells that reproduce uncontrollably. Plasma cells are cells that produce immunoglobulins or antibodies that fight infection or disease. In multiple myeloma, normal plasma cells transform into malignant cells and produce large amounts of immunoglobulins called monoclonal (M) protein. In addition, groups of myeloma cells cause other cells in the bone marrow to remove the part of the bone and cause osteolytic lesions, or soft spots in myeloma patients. These lesions and other bone loss are common; however, they do not occur in all myeloma patients.
Early stages of myeloma may produce no overt symptoms, but symptomatic disease develops as tumor mass increases and excess protein is produced by the tumor cells. Typical symptoms include bone pain, anemia, and renal failure. Frequent infections are also common, because the immune system is compromised when healthy white blood cells are crowded out by the malignant myeloma cells. The immediate goal in treating multiple myeloma is to get the disease under control and to keep the patient in remission with a good quality of life for as long as possible.
Accounting for 15% of all hematological malignancies, multiple myeloma typically affects middle-aged or elderly persons, and it is more common in men than women and in African Americans than Caucasians. Approximately 15,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, and more than 50,000 Americans are currently living with multiple myeloma.
Multiple myeloma can be treated and managed in multiple ways. Lengthy remissions can often be achieved, especially in specific genetically defined types of myeloma. The number of patients who can be considered cured is steadily increasing. A newly-diagnosed patient with low-risk multiple myeloma who is treated at the Myeloma Institute can expect to survive more than 10 years.
We invite our patients to explore our website, learn as much as possible about multiple myeloma, and work in partnership with their health-care team.