Multiple Myeloma

What is multiple myeloma?

Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that develops in the body’s plasma cells. Plasma cells are white blood cells that help fight infection and are found in the bone marrow (the soft, spongy tissue that fills the center of bones).

Multiple myeloma develops when the plasma cells change and grow out of control. These abnormal cells build up in the bone marrow and crowd out normal, healthy blood cells. This can make it hard for the body to fight infection and can lead to problems with blood clotting and circulation, organ damage, and damage to the surrounding bones, which can fracture or break over time.

Sometimes myeloma can be first found as a single tumor (called a plasmacytoma) in a single bone, but most of the time it will spread to the marrow of other bones.

More information about multiple myeloma (National Cancer Institute).

What multiple myeloma is not

Multiple myeloma (which sometimes called bone marrow cancer) is different from bone cancer. Although multiple myeloma affects the bones, it begins in cells of the bone marrow, while bone cancer begins in cells that form the hard, outer part of the bone.

Types of multiple myeloma

There are two main types of multiple myeloma:

  • Asymptomatic (Smoldering): This type of myeloma doesn’t have signs and symptoms of the disease. It can be stable for many months or years, but it tends to progress eventually and treatment will likely be needed at some point. Patients need to be monitored to see if the disease progresses.
  • Symptomatic (Active): This type of myeloma has signs and symptoms of the disease. It causes problems such as bone damage, anemia, kidney problems, or hypercalcemia (high levels of calcium in the blood).

Your symptoms, treatment and prognosis will depend on the stage and type of myeloma you have. Your doctor will help you understand your condition and the best treatment options for you.