Myeloma is one of the three most common types of blood cancer, along with leukemia and lymphoma. Myeloma is a type of cancer that begins in the bone marrow, and is a cancer of the plasma cells, which are a type of white blood cells that help blood clot.
When myeloma is found in the marrow of multiple bones in your body, it is called multiple myeloma. More than 90 percent of myeloma patients are diagnosed with multiple myeloma.
Like some other forms of blood cancer, doctors divide myeloma into two groups that categorize how quickly or slowly the disease is progressing: asymptomatic (slow-progressing) and symptomatic (quicker to progress with more symptoms).
How does myeloma develop?
Myeloma develops when a plasma cell is changed or mutated. B lymphocytes (B cells) are a type of white blood cell that are present in the bone marrow. Plasma cells develop from these B cells and are an important part of your immune system. They make proteins called antibodies, which help fight infection.
When the mutated plasma cell (myeloma cell) multiplies, these cells will continue to grow in the bone marrow if the disease is left untreated. The myeloma cells crowd out both the healthy plasma cells and the normal stem cells inside the bone marrow that form the white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.
Signs and Symptoms
In the beginning stages of myeloma, some patients will not experience signs or symptoms of disease. In about 20 percent of myeloma patients, the cancer is found before symptoms appear as a result of detection during routine blood tests or an X-ray. Some symptoms of myeloma include:
- Bone pain and/or skeletal fractures
- Anemia (fatigue and weakness caused by low red blood cell counts)
- Frequent infections due to a weakened immune system
Dr. Ramakrishnan with the Sarah Cannon Cancer Center at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center says, “This is a really exciting time in the treatment of Myeloma. New treatments and the routine use of stem cell transplants are prolonging survival and turning this into a chronic disease that patients live with.”