Multiple myeloma is cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow.
Causes & Risk Factors
Plasma cells help the body’s immune system fight disease by producing substances called antibodies. In multiple myeloma, plasma cells grow out of control and form tumors in the bone marrow.
The excess growth of plasma cells interferes with the body’s ability to make red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. This causes anemia, which makes a person more likely to get infections and have abnormal bleeding.
As the cancer cells grow in the bone marrow, they can cause pain and destruction of the bones. If the bones in the spine are affected, it can put pressure on the nerves, resulting in numbness or paralysis.
Multiple myeloma mainly affects older adults. A history of radiation therapy raises your risk for this type of cancer.
Tests & Diagnostics
Blood tests can help diagnose this disease. They may include:
- Blood chemistry (CHEM 20) may show increased levels of calcium, total protein, and abnormal kidney function
- Complete blood count (CBC) reveals low numbers of red and white blood cells and platelets
- Serum protein electropheresis (SPEP)
- Urine protein electrophoresis (UPEP) or Bence-Jones protein analysis
- Quantitative immunoglobulins (nephelometry)
Bone x-rays show fractures or hollowed out areas of bone. If your doctor suspects this type of cancer, a bone marrow biopsy will be performed.