How multiple myeloma is diagnosed

A diagnosis of multiple myeloma can be determined by several different tests. These include blood tests, urine tests, and a bone marrow biopsy. X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT) scans, and positron emission tomography (PET) scans may also be used. Your doctor will decide which tests you need.

To confirm a multiple myeloma diagnosis, your doctor will look for the following:

  • More than 10% plasma cells in a bone marrow sample or presence of plasma cell tumors in a bone biopsy specimen
  • Any one or more of the following:
    • Evidence of organ damage that could be caused by a plasma cell disorder, specifically:
      • High levels of calcium in the blood
      • High creatinine levels in the blood
      • Anemia or low red blood count
      • Severe bone loss that shows up in an imaging test
    • Any one or more of the following biomarkers:
      • More than 60% abnormal plasma cells in a bone marrow sample
      • Plasma cell proteins in the blood
      • Two or more areas of bone or bone marrow damage in an MRI

Can multiple myeloma be cured?

As of now there is no cure. However, the prognisis of multiple myeloma has improved over the last few decades with the development of new treatments.

Your doctor will consider a range of factors, including your kidney function, age, and overall health, to determine your prognosis. This can help guide important decisions, such as which treatment is best for you and when treatment should begin. Learn about the value of sharing the decision-making with your doctor.

To learn more, visit one of these multiple myeloma education and support groups.

Tom,
DARZALEX® patient, on what to do when you get diagnosed

“Locate a multiple myeloma specialist. Even if you need to travel a distance, a specialist is vital. Work with a team of doctors that you feel comfortable with. Soak up as much information as you can. Ask questions and do your research.”

Watch Patients’ Stories

Talking to your family and friends

There's no one "right" way to tell your family and friends that you have multiple myeloma. Here are some tips to help guide you:

Most people need and want to talk to someone when they find themselves dealing with cancer. Only you can decide when and how to tell your family and friends.

Telling those closest to you can help you take in the reality of what’s happening. As you talk, you may come up with other concerns that need to be addressed. Write down the questions that come up and discuss them with your healthcare team. Use our conversation starter to create a list of questions for your next appointment.

Before you talk to others, think through your own feelings, your reasons for telling them, and what you expect of them.

Some people are empowered by information, while it can make others feel anxious and overwhelmed. Keep this in mind as you share.

It might be helpful to explain what multiple myeloma is, what treatments you might need, and what your outlook or prognosis is.

It can get tiring to tell a lot of people details about your illness over and over again. There are websites specifically designed to help keep family and friends updated so you don’t have to spend hours phoning, texting, or emailing if you don’t want to.

You’ll probably have many different emotions when you hear your diagnosis and go through treatment. It’s normal to wonder, “Why me?” or to feel sad, angry, or afraid. Physical and chemical changes from the treatment or the cancer itself can also affect your emotions. So allow yourself to have those feelings.

Sometimes you may not want to talk about your feelings. You can tell others just by saying something like, “You know, I’m usually okay talking about this but just not today. I’m sure you understand.”

Many people have found that a counselor or support group can be a tremendous help during this difficult time.

Living with multiple myeloma and its treatment can affect family roles and routines. Talk with your family about the changes that need to be made. This way, you can make decisions as a team and work together.

Try not to put on a “happy face” if you don’t feel that way. Although you want to protect your loved ones by acting cheerful, it will help you and them more if you share your true feelings.

If you’re afraid you’ll become a burden, talk with your doctor about what you can do, and keep trying to do as much as you can. You and your family should keep doing things you always enjoyed together. There are real benefits to Keep Up Your Daily Routine.

When people ask how they can help, you might respond, out of courtesy, “Oh, nothing right now. We’re just fine.” Remember that most people really do want to help, and you’ll probably need extra help at some point during your treatment.

When you do ask, be as specific as possible about the help you need. For example, tell them when you need a ride to the doctor, or ask if they might be able to help around the house, run errands, or walk the dog. There will also be times when you don’t know what you need, but even just saying that will be helpful. It gives them a chance to offer something they can do for you.

Use our Interactive Family Discussion Guide to help with your conversation.

Jim,
DARZALEX® patient on communication

“Figure out a communication plan. Be specific with people and ask for help. If you need help shopping, mowing the yard, etc, ask for it. People want to help, so enable them.”

Watch Patients’ Stories

Questions to ask your doctor or nurse

It’s important to have open, honest discussions with your healthcare team. They want to answer your questions to help you make informed decisions. Here are a few questions to help you get started:

  • Where is the multiple myeloma located?
  • Has the disease spread beyond where it started?
  • How advanced, or at what stage, is the multiple myeloma, and what does it mean?
  • Will I need other tests before we can make a treatment decision?
  • How many patients with multiple myeloma are you treating today?
  • How many clinical trials, specific to multiple myeloma is this center currently supporting?
  • Do you have an online app for test results, appointments, and communications?
  • How do I communicate with you in case of an emergency?
  • How do we communicate for nonemergency interactions (via email, via phone, through a nurse, through an app)?