Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer. Other better-known blood cancers are leukemia and lymphoma. It is called "multiple" because this cancer typically causes problems in more than one place in the body.
The occurrence of myeloma is on the rise in the United States. It currently has no known cure, but is usually slow-growing and can be treated. Myeloma has long been known as a disease of the elderly, but in recent years more and more younger people are diagnosed with this cancer.
The cause of myeloma is unknown, but it is thought that certain industrial products, farm fertilizers and pesticides, and radiation might all be contributing factors.
There is no known hereditary factor associated with myeloma, although the occurrence of myeloma within families is being studied.
Multiple myeloma is slightly more likely to occur in men than in women, and it is more common in African-Americans than in Caucasians.
Common problems seen at and prior to diagnosis are tiredness, weakness, infections, bone pain, and fractures.
Multiple myeloma is called a hematological cancer and affects the plasma cell, one of the blood cells that comprises the immune system. The plasma cell is an immunoglobulin-secreting cell. In other words, it is a "factory" that the immune system creates in order to generate massive amounts of antibodies, or immunoglobulins, in order to fight "invaders." Immunoglobulin is a protein that, when produced by a malignant plasma cell, is called myeloma protein or m-protein.
Normal bone marrow contains less than 5% plasma cells. In multiple myeloma there are usually more than 30% plasma cells and that number can increase to over 90%.
There are over 19,000 new cases of myeloma diagnosed in the U.S. each year, representing 15% of all blood cancers and 1% of all types of cancer.
According to the International Myeloma Foundation (IMF), "There is only a weak family tendency to develop myeloma. Approximately 3-5% of patients with myeloma give a history of myeloma or a related blood/bone marrow condition within the extended family. Thus far, no specific gene has been linked to this myeloma tendency."
For further excellent background information, please refer to the North Texas website article: Myeloma 101.