Plasma cells make antibodies needed by the body to attack and kill germs. Found mostly in the soft tissue inside the bones called bone marrow, plasma cells co-exist along with red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
When plasma cells become cancerous it’s called multiple myeloma. These cells make an abnormal antibody called monoclonal immunoglobulin, monoclonal protein (M-protein), M-spike, or paraprotein. Although this starts in the blood cells that live in the bone marrow, multiple myeloma can affect more than your bones. It can also harm other tissues and organs, such as the kidneys.
The causes of multiple myeloma are not known, and some people experience symptoms while others do not. Because of this, it is important to know what to look for and what could increase your risk to help catch multiple myeloma as early as possible, which makes it easier to treat.
The survival rate for myeloma is based on whether it’s a single tumor in the body or if multiple tumors are found. Kidney function with the additional proteins created by myeloma also impacts the survival rate along with age and the patient’s overall health condition. Multiple myeloma patients have a relative five-year survival rate of about 57%. Localized myeloma has a five-year relative survival rate of 79%.
The best outcomes are for those patients who are diagnosed early. That’s why seeing your doctor regularly for blood tests and taking note of any symptoms is so important.
Doctors sometimes find multiple myeloma after a routine blood test. More often, doctors suspect multiple myeloma after an x-ray for a broken bone. Usually, though, patients go to the doctor because they are having other symptoms. If you have test results that require further testing, you may be referred to a hematologist who specializes in cancers that start in the blood cells.
If a bone marrow biopsy shows that you have multiple myeloma, your doctor needs to learn the extent (stage) of the disease to plan the best treatment. Additional tests are needed to see if the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.