How does multiple myeloma start?
Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that develops in the bone marrow, the soft spongy tissue found in the center of many bones. This is where normal blood cells grow. In healthy bone marrow, there are normal plasma cells that make antibodies to protect your body from infection. In multiple myeloma, plasma cells are transformed into cancerous multiple myeloma cells, which grow out of control and produce large amounts of a single abnormal antibody called M protein. As the cancerous cells multiply, there is less space in the bone marrow for normal blood cells, resulting in decreased numbers of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. The myeloma cells may activate other cells in the marrow that can damage your bones.
How does this affect the body?
Decreased blood cell numbers can cause anemia, excessive bleeding and decreased ability to fight infection. The buildup of M protein in the blood and urine can damage the kidneys and other organs. Bone damage can cause bone pain and osteolytic lesions, which are weakened spots on bones. This bone destruction increases the risk of fractures, and can also lead to a serious condition called hypercalcemia (increased levels of calcium in the blood).
Learn about symptoms and side effects
Causes and increased risk factors
Researchers have made advancements in understanding how multiple myeloma develops, but the exact cause has not yet been identified. Like all cancers, multiple myeloma is heterogeneous, meaning each case is unique. The genetic mutations that cause multiple myeloma are different from person to person. There are some specific mutations that have been identified as genetic risk factors, but multiple myeloma is not thought to be a hereditary disease. Increased incidence of multiple myeloma has been found in males, African Americans and people over the age of 45. Keep in mind these factors have not been proven to cause multiple myeloma, and new studies regularly demonstrate new findings that help us identify risk factors and work towards a cure.
Multiple myeloma in Black patients
Multiple myeloma is twice as common in the Black community compared to other ethnicities, and is twice as deadly in Black patients compared to white patients. Additionally, the conditions associated with the development of myeloma (including monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, or MGUS) are seen frequently in Black patients.
Learn more about multiple myeloma in Black patients
Adapted with permission from DeVita VT Jr, Hellman S, Rosenberg SA, eds. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins; 1997