Multiple myeloma is a cancer that develops in plasma cells, a type of white blood cell. Healthy plasma cells help fight off infection by producing antibodies, molecules that fight against viruses.
When cancerous plasma cells build up in the bones and bone marrow (the spongy center of bones where blood is made), they crowd the healthy blood cells and cause multiple myeloma, named because many bones are affected.
Common symptoms of multiple myeloma are:
- Constipation or nausea
- Easily exhaustible
- Feelings of extreme thirst
- Feeling the need to urinate often
- Pain in bones, usually in the back
- Weight loss
When a patient presents with symptoms that may suggest multiple myeloma, our MedStar Health specialist will take a complete medical history and perform a thorough physical examination. Diagnostic tests may include:
- Blood tests
- Biopsies: During a biopsy, a small sample of bone marrow and/or bone is taken from the hip or another large bone so doctors can look at its make-up in order to find any signs of abnormal changes.Two common types of biopsy used to help diagnose blood cancers and diseases include:
- Bone marrow aspiration: The sample of bone marrow is taken by putting a thin needle into the bone and removing a sample of the marrow.
- Bone marrow biopsy: A sample of both the bone and bone marrow is taken from the bone with a thick needle.
Once a bone marrow sample is obtained, it can be analyzed in a laboratory by a pathologist to determine what type of blood cancer or disease is present.
If multiple myeloma is diagnosed before symptoms appear, it may be not need to be treated right away, and instead may be closely watched.
Multiple myeloma is commonly treated with:
- Radiation therapy
- Chemotherapy (drug therapy)