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Multiple Myeloma

 201-227-6008   |    cancer@holyname.org

Overview

Multiple myeloma is a cancer that develops in a certain type of white blood cell, known as a plasma cell. Healthy plasma cells help fight infections by making antibodies that attack germs. When these cancerous plasma cells develop, they crowd out healthy cells and produce abnormal proteins that may cause damage to the bones, immune system, kidneys and red blood cell count.

While multiple myeloma is not a common cancer, it is the second most common blood cancer, after non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Approximately 33,000 adults in the U.S. are diagnosed with it annually.

Treatment for multiple myeloma depends on the stage of the disease. A number of treatment options are available, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy and more.

Multiple myeloma typically evolves from less severe illnesses such as monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) or Smoldering Multiple Myeloma. People with MGUS or Smoldering Multiple Myeloma do not always not need immediate treatment - active surveillance may be a reasonable option.

The Patricia Lynch Cancer Center at Holy Name has a multi-disciplinary team of experienced and skilled medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, nurses and support staff to diagnose, manage and treat multiple myeloma. They provide a compassionate, unified approach in creating a personal strategy for each patient's unique medical, emotional and lifestyle needs.


The signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma can vary or they may not be present at all in the early stages of the disease. When they do occur, they may include:

  • Bone pain, especially in the spine or chest

  • Mental fogginess or confusion

  • Fatigue

  • Frequent infections

  • Weakness or numbness in the legs

  • Frothy urine

A number of factors may increase the risk of developing multiple myeloma:

  • Age - the risk increases as you age, most people are diagnosed in their mid-60's.

  • Male sex - men develop the disease more often than women.

  • Black race - Black people are more likely to develop multiple myeloma than those of other races.

  • Family history - people with a sibling or parent who has the disease.

  • People with a history of MGUS - monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance.

  • People exposed to Agent Orange have an increased risk.

  • Obesity increases the risk of developing multiple myeloma.

For some patients, multiple myeloma is found incidentally through a blood test for another condition. Physicians also diagnose it after the patient experiences signs and symptoms. Tests used to detect multiple myeloma and the stage of the disease include:

  • Blood test - M proteins produced by the myeloma cells are found in the blood.

  • Urine test - M proteins, known as Bence Jones proteins in the urine, are detected.

  • Bone marrow sample - myeloma cells are found with a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy.

  • Imaging tests - an x-ray, MRI, CT or PET can detect bone problems associate with multiple myeloma.

Treatment of multiple myeloma depends on the stage and characteristics of the particular disease. It may include immunotherapy, chemotherapy, immune-modifying drugs, other types of medications, a stem cell transplant or a combination of several different medications.