Multiple myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells, a type of white blood cell normally responsible for producing antibodies. In multiple myeloma, collections of abnormal plasma cells accumulate in the bone marrow, where they interfere with the production of normal blood cells. Most cases of multiple myeloma also feature the production of a paraprotein—an abnormal antibody which can cause kidney problems. Bone lesions and hypercalcemia (high blood calcium levels) are also often encountered.
Multiple myeloma is diagnosed with blood tests (serum protein electrophoresis, serum free kappa/lambda light chain assay), bone marrow examination, urine protein electrophoresis, and X-rays of commonly involved bones.
Multiple myeloma is considered to be incurable but treatable. Remissions may be induced with steroids, chemotherapy, proteasome inhibitors, immunomodulatory drugs such as thalidomide or lenalidomide, and stem cell transplants. Radiation therapy is sometimes used to reduce pain from bone lesions.
Medical scientists have made major advances in treating different types of cancer in the past decade, but perhaps none more so than the blood cancer known as myeloma.