What is multiple myeloma?

If you have multiple myeloma, here are some facts you should know

Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that affects a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell. The diagram below shows how normal, healthy plasma cells become cancerous and start to grow out of control.

Whether you are newly diagnosed, exploring treatment options, or beginning treatment for multiple myeloma, this information can help with preparing for discussions with your doctor.

How multiple myeloma develops

Illustration of the spine with M-protein antibodies developing due to multiple myeloma

Normal, healthy plasma cells are white blood cells that produce antibodies. Antibodies are part of the immune system and help the body to fight infections.

When plasma cells have DNA damage, they can overproduce. This can weaken the immune system and can lead to abnormal amounts of M-protein that can damage the kidneys.

These damaged (cancerous) plasma cells rapidly spread and replace normal cells with tumors, usually in the bone marrow.

Risk factors

It’s currently unclear what causes multiple myeloma, but here are some risk factors that may increase your chance of developing multiple myeloma:

  • Older age
  • Male gender
  • Obesity
  • African American/Black heritage
  • Family history
  • Having other plasma cell diseases