PATIENT RESOURCES | What is Myeloma?

Myeloma, which is also called multiple myeloma (MM), plasma cell myeloma, and Kahler’s disease, is a cancer of white blood cells. These cells are an integral part of the immune system, producing antibodies that help fight disease and infection. However, once myeloma develops, the normal production of these antibodies is disrupted which leaves the body weakened and susceptible to infection and tissue damage. Antibodies produced by myeloma cells can spread throughout the body impairing organs like the kidney. Large numbers of myeloma cells residing in the bone marrow can cause bone destruction as well as prevent the normal production of both red and white blood cells which are needed for healthy circulatory and immune systems.

The resulting symptoms include bone pain, infection (most commonly pneumonias and pyelonephritis), anemia, and renal failure. Patients with myeloma may also feel weak, tired, and confused due to hypercalcemia.

Multiple myeloma is a complex disease that can be treated and managed in many ways. Lengthy remissions can often be achieved, especially in specific genetically defined types of myeloma. Due to advances in treatment options for MM, the proportion of patients who can be considered cured is steadily increasing. A patient diagnosed with low-risk multiple myeloma who receives appropriate treatment can expect to survive more than 10 years.

Reference: Raab MS, Podar K, Breitkreutz I, Richardson PG, Anderson KC. "Multiple myeloma." The Lancet 374(9686):324-339.

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