Myeloma is a type of blood cancer that can be treated but cannot be cured yet. There are many different treatments for myeloma and thanks to research, more are being developed.
What is myeloma?
Myeloma affects white blood cells called plasma cells.
Normally, plasma cells make antibodies that help you fight off infections. In myeloma, your plasma cells start to make antibodies which don’t work properly. These abnormal cells also grow more quickly than they should. This can cause a range of symptoms.
Myeloma is often called multiple myeloma because it affects more than one area of the body. There are different types of myeloma, but all types are treated in the same way.
Some people have smouldering myeloma. This means they don’t have any symptoms of myeloma when they’re diagnosed, and may not need treatment for some time, if ever.
Most people diagnosed with myeloma are men, and most are over 70, although some people are much younger when they are diagnosed.
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Causes of myeloma
We don’t fully understand what causes myeloma, but we know that things like age, sex, family history and ethnicity can affect your chance of developing it. A few people who have a condition called MGUS will go on to develop myeloma.
Some people will have myeloma symptoms caused by:
- high calcium levels in the blood
- renal damage (kidney damage)
- anaemia (low red blood cells)
- bone damage.
These are called CRAB symptoms. You won’t have all the possible symptoms and you may not have any.
Tests for myeloma
You will have tests (including blood tests, bone marrow tests and scans) to confirm your diagnosis, monitor the myeloma and monitor any treatment you have.
Smouldering myeloma and watch and wait
If you have smouldering myeloma – no symptoms or signs the myeloma will progress soon – you won’t have treatment straight away but will have regular check-ups. This approach is called watch and wait.
Treatment for myeloma aims to bring you into remission, where there are few or no myeloma cells left in your body.
It also aims to manage the effects of myeloma such as bone and kidney damage.
Treatment can cause a range of side effects but three are things you can do to help with these.
Prognosis for myeloma
Your prognosis – what will happen in the future – is individual to you, and everyone is different. Myeloma is treatable, but almost always comes back after a time, and needs treating again.
Because of this uncertainty, it’s important to look after your mental health. You may like to read our story from five people living with myeloma, or visit our online community forum to connect with others.
"It's fair to say myeloma has turned my whole world upside down. But I still have a world.”
Louise, living with myeloma since 2017
If someone you know has myeloma
We have essential information for family members and friends, covering:
- how to support someone with blood cancer
- practical tips
- coping with your own emotions
- personal stories from people connected to someone with blood cancer.
Blood Cancer Heart to Heart podcast for family and friends
"I thought this is it. I’ve driven here as your girlfriend, and I've left as a doctor, a pharmacist, a nurse, a carer - everything all rolled into one."
Myeloma research and clinical trials
Research continues to find new treatments for myeloma and improve existing ones.
If you are interested in joining a clinical trial (a research project involving people), we can help.
Living well with myeloma
It’s a shock to find out you have myeloma, but people living with say that it is “doable”, and that with some adjustments, they can still do things they enjoy. It's important to find ways look after your physical and mental health that work for you.
Many thanks to Dr Lydia Eccersley and Dr Emma Searle for checking the medical accuracy of our information about myeloma.