Multiple myeloma begins when a plasma cell becomes abnormal. The abnormal cell divides to make copies of itself. The new cells divide again and again, making more and more abnormal cells. These abnormal plasma cells are called myeloma cells.
In time, myeloma cells collect in the bone marrow. They may damage the solid part of the bone. When myeloma cells collect in several of your bones, the disease is called multiple myeloma. This disease may also harm other tissues and organs, such as the kidneys.
Myeloma cells make antibodies called M proteins and other proteins. These proteins can collect in the blood, urine, and organs.
A multiple myeloma diagnosis can leave you feeling overwhelmed and full of questions. Therefore, our blood cancer specialists put together a guide that we hope will help ease your mind a little. This guide can provide you with enough information to prepare for your first appointment with your hematologist or medical oncologist who will create a treatment plan for you.
Doctors sometimes find multiple myeloma after a routine blood test. More often, doctors suspect multiple myeloma after an X-ray for a broken bone. Usually, though, patients go to the doctor because they are having other symptoms.
To find out whether such problems are from multiple myeloma or some other condition, your doctor may ask about your personal and family medical history and do a physical exam. Your doctor also may order some additional tests, such as blood or urine tests, x-rays, or a biopsy.
If the biopsy shows that you have multiple myeloma, your doctor needs to learn the extent (stage) of the disease to plan the best treatment. The stage takes into account whether the cancer is causing problems with your bones or kidneys. Staging may involve having more tests:
People with multiple myeloma have many treatment options, including active surveillance, induction therapy, and bone marrow transplant. Sometimes a combination of methods is used.
Radiation therapy is used sometimes to treat painful bone disease. It may be used alone or along with other therapies. See the Comprehensive care section to learn about ways to get support for relieving your pain.
The choice of treatment depends mainly on how advanced the disease is and whether you have symptoms. If you have multiple myeloma without symptoms (smoldering myeloma), you may not need cancer treatment right away. The doctor monitors you health closely (active surveillance) so that treatment can start when you begin to have symptoms.