What is multiple myeloma

December 9, 2008

Welcome to the Myeloma Beacon, a news resource for multiple myeloma.

I’ve been writing for them for about a month.  Although I read through a few general introductions to the disease, it’s taken me a few weeks to develop a comfortable familiarity with the subject.  Here are some informal notes on MM, summarized from the description at the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.


Introduction. Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer; specifically, it affects the plasma cells that normally produce antibodies for the immune system.  Plasma cells are the counterpart to white blood cells in the immune system, and both originate from stem cells in blood marrow.

Symptoms. The disease results in osteoporosis of the pelvis, spine, ribs and skull, as well as a number of other symptoms, including hyperalcemia, anemia, renal damage, increased susceptibility to bacterial infection, and impaired production of disease-fighting antibodies.


Stem cell in bone marrow >> lymphocytes (T cell & B cell);
B cell >> plasma cell >> antibodies (aka immunoglobulins)

Damaged B cell >> malignant plasma cell (aka myeloma cell) >> travel through bloodstream to accumulate in bone marrow >> more myeloma cells >> messed-up antibodies & bone damage

Mechanism. Myeloma cells send out cytokines, which inhibit natural cell death (apoptosis), and growth factors that create new blood vessels to feed tumors.  They also may fail to activate the immune system, so the tumors don’t have anything to stop them from growing.

Effects. Collections of plasma cells cause lesions in the hard outer part of the bone and masses or tumors in soft part of bone or soft tissues (plasmacytoma).  The affected bone marrow produces nonfunctional immunoglobulin, called M protein, that gets in the way of normal antibodies and may also shorten their lifespan.  Instead of M protein, patients with some forms of myeloma produce incomplete antibodies (Bence Jones myeloma) or none at all (nonsecretory myeloma).

Incidence. The second most prevalent blood cancer after non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma accounts for 1% of all cancers in white US residents and 2% of cancers in black residents.  There are 5 to 7 new cases out of 100,000 per year.  In the US, about 20,000 new cases are expected in 2008; about 56,000 people currently live with the disease.

Risk factors. Male, African American, over 70 years of age, and some occupations (agriculture, petroleum, leather, cosmetology industries).

_Postscript.  I am seriously digging wordpress’s new dashboard.