About Myeloma

What is Myeloma?

Myeloma is a type of blood cancer, specifically, a malignant (cancerous) growth of the plasma cells in the bone marrow.

Normal plasma cells develop from B cells (also called B Lymphocytes). When foreign substances such as bacteria enter the body, plasma cells produce proteins or antibodies to fight disease or infections. When B cells are damaged, the resulting plasma cells become cancerous.

These plasma cells then travel through the bloodstream and collect in the bone marrow; the spongy layer inside the bone. As myeloma cells grow, they invade the hard, solid tissue of the bone. In most cases, the myeloma cells spread into the cavities of the large bones of the body, these cells secrete chemicals which cause the bones to dissolve, forming multiple small lesions or lytic spots which cause thinning of the bone and easy breakage.

One of the indicators of myeloma is the large amount of protein called monoclonal (M) protein found in the blood or light chain protein, (also known as the Bence Jones protein) which is found in the urine.

Internationally, myeloma is the second most prevalent blood cancer after non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Myeloma is the leading blood cancer in Barbados (taken from the Dalton Durant Haematology Register, 2005—2009).


What Causes Multiple Myeloma?

There is no single cause, but it would appear that there are some risk factors. Myeloma is rare in people under the age of 50. In Barbados, we have recently diagnosed a 30 year old woman with multiple myeloma. It is more common in men and in black people.

People who are exposed to high doses of radiation, disorders of the immune system and environmental factors are being studied as possible causes for Myeloma.

People not exposed to any of the above risk factors have also developed multiple myeloma.


How is Multiple Myeloma Diagnosed?

Your doctor may order a number of tests if he or she suspects multiple myeloma, which will include blood tests, urine analysis, bone marrow aspiration, x-rays and a bone marrow biopsy.



Your doctor will consider the type of treatment best suited depend on the stage of the myeloma. The treatment may include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, bone marrow transplant or biological therapy.

If Myeloma is diagnosed and the patient has no symptoms, this is called smoldering myeloma, the doctor may wait and monitor your condition as he or she sees fit.

In some cases, you might be asked to drink extra fluids and follow a special diet. This will protect your kidneys by flushing the calcium out of your system.


Characteristics of Myeloma

  • Malignant plasma cells (myeloma cells).
  • Its involvement in multiple sites in the marrow.
  • Destruction of bones.
  • Abnormal myeloma proteins in the blood and urine.
  • High calcium in the blood.
  • Damage to the kidneys.


Signs and Symptoms

  • Bone pain is the most common early sign.
  • Repeat infections.
  • Fatigue.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Weight loss.
  • Pale complexion due to anaemia.
  • Kidney problems.


Risk Factors

  • Race: More frequent in blacks.
  • Gender: More frequent in males globally, but in Barbados, it is more common in females than in males.
  • Age: More frequent in older persons, especially over sixty, but in Barbados, it has been more prevalent between the ages of 45 and 60.


Medical Disclaimer

The information given on this website is for educational purposes only. We do not diagnose or treat anyone. This information is intended for general reference and as such, can be taken out of context without professional medical guidance.

If you suspect that you or someone you know may have any of the conditions mentioned, always ask your doctor before acting on any information you see here.

Some of the material used was taken from various international organisations and put together for the Barbadian public.

For further information about these diseases, we link to some international cancer-related services, including; The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) and The U.S. National Cancer Institute