Multiple Myeloma

What Is Multiple Myeloma?

Myeloma is cancer of the plasma cells, which produce antibodies that fight disease and infection.

This type of blood cancer is also known as:

  • Multiple myeloma
  • Kahler disease
  • Myelomatosis
  • Plasma cell myeloma

Myeloma is the most common type of plasma cell cancer and the third most common blood cancer (after lymphoma and leukemia).

Doctors diagnose nearly 24,000 people in the United States with myeloma each year.

What Causes Multiple Myeloma?

Myeloma begins when abnormal plasma cells, or myeloma cells, build up in the bone marrow and form tumors in the bones.

These tumors — called plasmacytomas — may prevent the bone marrow from making enough healthy blood cells.

Doctors call a single plasma cell tumor isolated plasmacytoma. When two or more tumors exist, they call the disease multiple myeloma.

Multiple Myeloma Prognosis

Prognosis — or the chance of recovering from multiple myeloma — depends on factors such as:

  • The growth rate of the tumor.
  • How fast the cancer appears to be spreading.
  • Your overall health.

Myeloma Risk Factors

Men are more likely than women to have this disease.

African-Americans are twice as likely as Caucasians to receive a myeloma diagnosis.

Abnormalities Related to Myeloma

Other abnormalities of the blood relate to myeloma development.

These plasma cell abnormalities — or neoplasms — can be cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign).

They include:


In this condition, the blood contains large proteins and is too thick to flow through small blood vessels. One common subtype is Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia, which is a type of cancer.

Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS)

While MGUS is benign, it can turn into cancer. Blood tests are the first step for treating MGUS.


This type of blood cancer begins in plasma cells and may turn into myeloma.

Screenings and Exams for Myeloma

Doctors rarely detect myeloma early because it usually doesn't cause symptoms until the advanced state.

If your doctor does suspect myeloma, blood tests are the first approach to diagnosis.

Your doctor may order a CBC — a type of blood test — along with other tests.

These lab tests can reveal a great deal, such as levels of the different antibodies and proteins in the blood.

Diagnostic tests for myeloma

If you have myeloma, a bone marrow biopsy will show a high level of plasma. Other biopsy approaches — such as CT-guided biopsies — may confirm a plasmacytoma.

If your doctor thinks you may have myeloma, you might need the following tests:

  • Blood tests
  • Bone marrow biopsy
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • PET scan
  • X-ray

Contact Us About Multiple Myeloma Care

Contact UPMC Hillman Cancer Center about myeloma and blood cancer care by calling 412-647-2811.

To reach the Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, call 412-864-6600.