Multiple Myeloma


When you’re facing multiple myeloma, you need a health care team you can count on. Mercy oncologists treat the most challenging cancers every day. They’re highly experienced at helping people with all forms of myeloma live better lives.

What is Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myeloma, also known as myeloma and Kahler's disease, is cancer of the plasma cells ― the white blood cells that create antibodies to help the body fight infection. Multiple myeloma starts in your bone marrow, where blood cells are formed.

The condition occurs when damaged plasma cells grow out of control, crowding out healthy cells and producing abnormal antibodies called monoclonal proteins. When these unhealthy proteins build up in your body, they can cause organ damage and other problems.

Multiple myeloma has different types and subtypes, depending on the protein produced by the myeloma cell and whether you’re experiencing symptoms (active) or have no symptoms (smoldering).

Light Chain Myeloma

This condition occurs when myeloma cells overproduce either the kappa or lambda antibody protein. For example, with Kappa light chain myeloma, there’s an overabundance of a specific antibody protein – the Kappa light chain protein.

Smoldering Multiple Myeloma (SMM)

This precancerous form of myeloma is slow-growing, usually doesn’t cause symptoms and may not need treatment right away.

Solitary Plasmacytoma

This disorder occurs when an abnormal growth of plasma cells (tumor) develops in a single area of the body, often in a bone.

Extramedullary Plasmacytoma

This condition occurs when tumors develop in soft tissues outside the bone marrow, such as the throat, sinuses, nose and larynx.

Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance (MGUS)

In this precancerous condition, abnormal plasma cells don’t form tumors and may not cause symptoms. But people with MGUS can develop multiple myeloma or other cancers, so they’re watched closely.

Non-secretory Myeloma

This disorder occurs when myeloma cells don’t release (secrete) enough monoclonal proteins or light chains to be detected by blood or urine tests. A biopsy often finds myeloma cells in the bone marrow. 

While the exact cause of multiple myeloma is unknown, experts believe certain DNA changes (mutations) can make plasma cells become cancerous. These mutations happen in either oncogenes (genes that help cells grow) or tumor-suppressor genes (genes that help control cell growth).

Other factors that may increase multiple myeloma risk include:

Age & Gender

Multiple myeloma is more prevalent in people over age 65. And more men than women develop the disease.


Black people are twice as likely as white people to develop multiple myeloma. This may be because of a higher risk of MGUS in Black people, which raises multiple myeloma risk.

Family History

Multiple myeloma sometimes runs in families. Having a parent or sibling with the condition makes you more likely to develop it than a person with no family history. But many people with multiple myeloma don’t have affected relatives.


Being obese or overweight is linked to a higher risk of developing multiple myeloma.

Radiation Exposure

In rare cases, radiation exposure from x-rays or other types of radiation may be a risk factor for multiple myeloma.

Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma often causes no symptoms until the disease has progressed. When symptoms occur, they may include:


  • Bone pain, especially in your back or hips
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent infections
  • Persistent constipation
  • Numbness or weakness in the legs

Side Effects of Multiple Myeloma

Having extra antibodies your body can’t use sometimes causes other health issues, including:


  • Low iron (anemia)
  • Kidney damage
  • Bone problems, including bone loss, bone fractures or spinal cord compression

Several tools and tests are used to diagnose multiple myeloma, including:


  • Blood tests to measure blood count, kidney function, protein levels, antibodies and other markers
  • Urine tests to look for myeloma proteins and measure amounts
  • Bone marrow tests to collect and examine samples of marrow or bone; samples can be removed surgically or with a narrow-gauge needle
  • Imaging tests like x-rays, PET/CT scans, MRIs and bone density scans

Mercy offers the latest treatments and technologies to fight multiple myeloma, plus the personal support you need throughout your journey. Your treatment plan is based on the type of multiple myeloma you have and whether it’s slow-growing or aggressive. Treatments for multiple myeloma may include:


One or more types of medication may be used to destroy myeloma cells or keep them from growing or spreading. Medications may be given through an IV, orally or both.


Chemotherapy is medication that destroys myeloma cells to keep them from growing or multiplying. It may be given alone or with other treatments like radiation therapy.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high doses of radiation to kill myeloma cells or keep them from growing. External beam radiation therapy uses machines outside the body that aim high-energy x-rays (or beams) at myeloma cells.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy identifies and attacks specific molecules (molecular targets) on cancer cells that help them grow and spread.


Immunotherapy helps the immune system attack myeloma cells by boosting immunity or changing how it functions.

Watchful Waiting

In some cases, Mercy cancer specialists may recommend waiting to treat multiple myeloma until it begins causing symptoms or health issues.

Stem Cell Transplant

If your Mercy cancer specialist feels a stem cell transplant (also called a bone marrow transplant) is right for you, you’ll be referred to an appropriate transplant center.

If you have complications caused by monoclonal protein build-up, you may need other therapies, including:


  • Dialysis for kidney failure
  • Medications for anemia or bone loss
  • Plasmapheresis to remove excess antibodies from the blood


Let our experienced team focus on selecting the most effective treatments, so you can focus on getting better.

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