Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer that begins in the plasma cells. These are a type of white blood cell and part of our immune system, which helps protect our bodies from germs and other harmful substances.
When multiple myeloma develops, the plasma cells become cancerous, multiply quickly and form tumors in the bone marrow and the solid parts of bones.
We don’t yet know the exact causes of multiple myeloma, but it’s more common in older people and African Americans. It can also run in families. About 30,000 new cases are expected this year.
Early in the disease’s development, it may not show any symptoms. That makes it difficult to diagnose. Common symptoms may include:
- Bone pain, often in the back or ribs
- Broken bones
- Weakness or fatigue
- Weight loss
- Frequent infections and fevers
- Feeling very thirsty
- Frequent urination
Doctors diagnose multiple myeloma using lab tests, imaging tests and a bone marrow biopsy.
Treatment depends on how advanced the disease is and whether there are symptoms. If there are no symptoms, treatment may be delayed. If there are symptoms, treatment may include chemotherapy, stem cell transplantation, radiation or targeted therapy. Targeted therapy uses substances that attack cancer cells without harming normal cells.