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, also called plasma B cells.
Plasma cells are an important part of the immune system, which helps fight infection. When certain mutations occur within these plasma cells, it is called multiple myeloma. There are several different forms of myeloma, with more than 90 percent of patients 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
To learn more about this specific type of blood cancer, including diagnosis, treatment, and side effects information, visit the Sarah Cannon patient education portal, Myeloma Basics - What is Myeloma?