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Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects the plasma cells in bone marrow (bone marrow plasma cells should not be confused with plasma, the liquid portion of the blood). Plasma cells make antibodies, which are substances that help the immune system attack and kill germs. If these cells become cancerous, they can produce excessive amounts of immunoglobulin, which can accumulate and form tumors known as plasmacytomas. When just one plasmacytoma is present, the condition is classified as localized myeloma, while multiple plasmacytomas (which occurs much more frequently) is called multiple myeloma.

How myeloma can cause organ damage

Multiple myeloma cells reproduce very rapidly. As they accumulate, they can crowd out healthy cells in the blood and bone marrow. As the cancerous cells spread throughout the body, they can accumulate in other organs and prevent those organs from properly functioning. For instance, it’s common for myeloma cells to accumulate in the kidneys, blocking the passageways and potentially causing kidney failure.

Other potential complications of myeloma

In addition to organ damage, people with multiple myeloma may experience:

  • Anemia (low red blood cell counts)
  • A weakened immune system
  • Bone loss and an increased risk of bone fractures
  • Hypercalcemia (high levels of calcium in the blood)

As a result, treatment can be designed with two goals in mind: to destroy the cancerous cells and to help prevent or minimize these complications. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and stem cell therapy may be given to treat plasmacytomas, while medications can be prescribed to help counteract bone disease. People with multiple myeloma might also receive blood transfusions to keep their blood cell counts within a normal range.

Where to seek treatment

Moffitt Cancer Center’s Malignant Hematology Program specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of blood cancers, including multiple myeloma. Our patients can consult with several experienced oncologists, including medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, bone marrow transplant specialists and supportive care providers. Additionally, no referral is required to request an appointment. For more information, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online.