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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Multiple myeloma

Other Names for this Disease
  • Kahler disease
  • Myeloma - multiple
  • Myelomatosis
  • Plasma cell dyscrasia
  • Plasma cell myeloma
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Your Question

My daughter has just been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Is it survivable? Please send me all the information you have.

Our Answer

We have identified the following information that we hope you find helpful. If you still have questions, please contact us.

What is multiple myeloma?

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. Plasma cells help the body fight infection by producing proteins called antibodies. In multiple myeloma, plasma cells grow out of control in the bone marrow and form tumors in the areas of solid bone. The growth of these bone tumors makes it harder for the bone marrow to make healthy blood cells and platelets. This disease may also harm other tissues and organs, such as the kidneys. Multiple myeloma mainly affects older adults. Although the exact cause is unknown, there are several known risk factors that can increase a person's chance of getting this disease.[1][2]
Last updated: 7/6/2011

What are the signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma?

Multiple myeloma causes anemia, which makes a person more likely to get infections and have abnormal bleeding. As the cancer cells grow in the bone marrow, bone or back pain can occur, most often in the ribs or back. If the bones in the spine are affected, it can put pressure on the nerves, resulting in numbness or weakness of the arms or legs. Other symptoms include:[1][2]

  • Bleeding problems
  • Fatigue and weakness due to anemia
  • Frequent infections and fevers without any other cause
  • Shortness of breath due to anemia
  • Unexplained broken bones
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea or constipation
Last updated: 7/6/2011

What causes multiple myeloma?

The exact cause of multiple myeloma is not known. However, researchers have made progress in understanding how certain changes in DNA can cause plasma cells to become cancerous. DNA is the chemical that carries the instructions for nearly everything our cells do. Myeloma cells can also show abnormalities in their chromosomes. Finally, researchers have found that individuals with plasma cell tumors can have abnormalities in other bone marrow cells, which may also cause excess plasma cell growth.[3] 

There are certin risk factors that can increase a person's change of getting multiple myeloma. These risk factors include individuals over the age of 65, males, black Americans, exposure to radiation, family history of the disease, workplace exposures, obesity, and/or having another plasma cell disease.[3] 
Last updated: 7/6/2011

How is multiple myeloma diagnosed?

Blood tests can help diagnose this disease. They may include:[2]

  • Blood tests to check calcium level, total protein level, and kidney function
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Blood and urine tests to check to identify proteins, or antibodies (immunofixation)
  • Blood tests to measure the specific level of certain proteins called immunoglobulins (nephelometry)

Additionally, bone x-rays may show fractures or hollowed out areas of bone. A bone marrow biopsy may also be performed. Bone density testing may show bone loss.[2]
Last updated: 7/8/2011

How might multiple myeloma be treated?

The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms, avoid complications, and prolong life. Those with mild disease or where the diagnosis is not certain are usually carefully watched without treatment. Some people have a slow-developing form that takes years to cause symptoms.  Medications for the treatment of multiple myeloma include:[2]
  • Dexamethasone, melphalan, cyclophosphamide, doxil, thalidomide, lenalidomide (Revlimid), and bortezomib (Velcade) can be used alone or combined together.
  • Bisphosphonates (pamidronate) to reduce bone pain and prevent fractures.

Radiation therapy may be done to relieve bone pain or treat a bone tumor.[2]

Two types of bone marrow transplantation may be tried:[2]
  • Autologous bone marrow or stem cell transplantation makes use of one’s own stem cells. In younger patients, it has been shown to increase survival.
  • Allogeneic transplant makes use of someone else’s stem cells. This treatment carries serious risks but offers the chance of a cure.
Last updated: 7/6/2011

What is the prognosis for multiple myeloma?

Survival of people with multiple myeloma depends on the patient's age and the stage of disease. Some cases are very aggressive, while others take years to get worse. Chemotherapy and transplants rarely lead to a permanent cure.[2]
Last updated: 7/6/2011