Multiple myeloma is a cancer that affects plasma cells in the bone marrow.
What is Multiple Myeloma?
Plasma cells are white blood cells, a crucial part of the immune system that protects the body against infection. These cells grow in the soft tissue inside bones, known as marrow.
However, there are instances when the marrow produces too many plasma cells or grow abnormal cells. The cells can clump together and form tumours.
The abnormal plasma cells make an unwanted antibody protein known as monoclonal protein or M protein. M protein serves no purpose in the body, as only diseased myeloma cells produce it. Elevated levels of M protein can cause damage the body.
Types of Multiple Myeloma
- Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance (MGUS): MGUS occurs when plasma cells produce too many copies of the M protein. It is a benign condition that has the potential to progress to multiple myeloma.
- Isolated Plasmacytoma: This form of blood cancer involves a single mass of plasma cells in the bone marrow. It may develop into myeloma.
- Extramedullary Plasmacytoma: This type occurs when plasma cell tumours grow outside the bone marrow.
- Multiple Myeloma: This type is characterised by the presence of two or more plasma tumours in the bone marrow.
- Smoldering Multiple Myeloma: These plasma cell tumours do not cause any symptoms.
Risks of Multiple Myeloma
Factors that may increase the risk of multiple myeloma include:
Monoclonal Gammopathy of Uncertain Significance (MGUS)
Having a family history of multiple myeloma
Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma
In the early stages, myeloma may not cause any symptoms. It is often only suspected or diagnosed after a routine blood or urine test.
However, myeloma will eventually lead a wide range of problems, including:
A persistent pain in your bones
Weak bones that break (fracture) easily
Tiredness, weakness and shortness of breath
Weakened immune function, which can lead to frequent infections
Diagnosing Multiple Myeloma
Multiple myeloma is diagnosed with several tests, including:
Full Blood Count (FBC)
To check the levels of normal blood cells and calcium, renal function, as well as the presence of M-protein and serum light chains (made by myeloma cells).
To detect the presence of M-protein.
Whole Body Low Dose Scans
To test for any bone damage or fractures related to myeloma.
Bone Marrow Biopsy
A sample is taken from the bone marrow to detect any abnormalities in the bone marrow cells.