Multiple Myeloma

Overview

Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer of the blood (hematologic cancer). It starts in your blood’s infection-fighting plasma cells, which are typically found in bone marrow (the soft tissue in the center of your bones).

When plasma cells become cancerous, they multiply out of control, forming tumors in your bones and causing them to weaken. The cancer also makes it harder for your bone marrow to produce healthy blood cells, which increases your risk of infection.

Symptoms

Symptoms of multiple myeloma can vary, and early in the disease there may not be any symptoms. Later signs may include:

  • Bone pain
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness and/or dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Excessive thirst
  • Chronic infections

Diagnosis

If your doctor believes you might have multiple myeloma, he or she will draw some of your blood and conduct a complete blood count (CBC). A low red blood cell count (anemia) can be a sign of the disease. Your doctor might also remove (biopsy) some of the marrow from your hip bone or another large bone, or take X-rays of your bones. These tests can show bone damage caused by myeloma cells.

Services & Treatment

With treatment, most people can return to near-normal activity. You and your doctor will discuss the best course of action to relieve your pain, reduce complications and slow the progress of the disease. This may include:

Surveillance: A watch-and-wait approach may be appropriate if your cancer is progressing slowly and you’re not experiencing any symptoms. Your doctor will regularly meet with you to check on your condition.

Chemotherapy: These drugs interfere with cancer cells' ability to reproduce. 

Radiation therapy: This procedure directs high-energy rays to kill myeloma cells. Your doctor may use radiation to treat areas of your bones that have been damaged by the disease.

Bone marrow transplant/stem cell transplant: This procedure helps rebuild your bone marrow after chemotherapy. It may be recommended after an extremely high dose of chemo, which can kill off your healthy stem cells (immature blood cells) as well as the cancer cells. There are two types of stem cell transplants: Allogenic (stem cells are transplanted from a donor) and autologous  (stem cells are taken from your body before chemo/radiation and returned afterward).

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