Multiple myeloma starts with the overgrowth of plasma cells. Plasma cells come from a type of white blood cell called B lymphocytes. The job of plasma cells is to make immunoglobulin (antibodies). Your body uses immunoglobulin to defend itself from anything foreign, like infection.
Usually, plasma cells die when they’ve done their job and are no longer needed. But cancer plasma cells (myeloma) attach themselves to the bone marrow so the cancer cells can keep spreading.
These cancer cells stick together (as a tumour) to stop your blood and immune system from working like it should. Multiple myeloma means there is more than one of these myeloma tumours in the body.
Myeloma cancer cells make an unusable type of immunoglobulin – called monoclonal protein or paraprotein. They also make a type of protein (light chain) which can spread easily and is toxic to other cells in the body.
Symptoms of multiple myeloma
- fatigue (feeling tired)
- other symptoms of anaemia (may show as dizziness, trouble breathing, pale skin)
- bone pain with no explanation
- bleeding or bruising easily
- frequent infections
- weight loss with no explanation.
How myeloma affects the body
Myeloma can cause bones to thin and break easily. Myeloma releases protein that interrupts the body from creating new bone cells. The protein also damages existing bones.
Myeloma can make it harder for the body to fight bacterial infection. The paraproteins replace the helpful immunoglobulin (antibodies).
Myeloma makes light chain proteins that often make their way to the kidneys. This protein builds up in the kidneys and makes it hard for the kidneys to do their job of filtering waste. It’s even harder for the kidneys to function when there are infections in the body. This is why myeloma can cause kidney failure (where they stop working).
Read more: How is myeloma diagnosed?
There is no cure for multiple myeloma yet, but treatments are improving over time. This is an important area of research for us. We lead haematology clinical trials and research with a focus on innovative treatments for multiple myeloma in Australia.
Treatment options include chemotherapy, autologous transplant and targeted therapies. To learn more about treatments, download the Blood Cancer Patient Guide.
See a specialist haematologist
The Epworth Centre for Immunotherapies and Snowdome Laboratories is a Centre of Excellence in blood cancer patient treatment and care.
You can expect personalised care as you navigate diagnosis, management and treatment with our specialists in East Melbourne, Box Hill, Geelong and Richmond.