a doctor explaining multiple myeloma to a patient

Understanding Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma is a form of blood cancer that specifically targets plasma cells. These cancerous cells accumulate in the bone marrow and produce an abnormal form of protein that can affect both kidney function and bone health. While multiple myeloma is an incredibly rare form of cancer, it can prove to be a very serious and painful disease for those suffering from it. Here is a quick overview of this illness—including its symptoms, risk factors, and treatments.


In the early stages of multiple myeloma there are typically very few, if any, noticeable symptoms. However, as the disease progresses, symptoms will gradually begin to accumulate. One of the most common of these is bone trouble. This includes bone weakness—which may lead to an increased risk of fractures or breaks—and pain, especially in the neck, back, hips, and skull. Other frequent symptoms include excessive fatigue, frequent infections, dizziness, confusion, trouble breathing, nausea, and weight loss.

Risk Factors

While researchers are still unsure as to what causes multiple myeloma, they have been able to pinpoint several factors that put people at a higher risk of the disease. These include:

  • Age—The risk of multiple myeloma increases with age. Most people who contract this disease do so in their 60s. In fact, only about 1% of cases occur in people under the age of 35.
  • Race—Black people have about double the risk of developing multiple myeloma than people of other races.
  • Sex—Men are also at a slightly higher risk of this illness than women, although this risk is much less significant than those of age or race.
  • Family History—If a close relative has multiple myeloma, a person’s risk of developing it themselves can double, or in some cases even triple.


There is currently not a complete cure for multiple myeloma, but with proper treatment many patients still experience an incredibly high quality of living. As with other forms of cancer, chemotherapy is often a common treatment option. Many times doctors will recommend high doses of it in conjunction with a stem cell transplant to help replace malfunctioning plasma cells in the bone marrow. Additionally, radiation therapy is another popular treatment choice. It’s especially helpful for quickly shrinking cancerous growths that are localized in a particular part of the body. 

Last Updated: February 21, 2017