Myeloma blood cancers

Man with myeloma having chemotherapy

What is myeloma?

Myeloma is a relatively rare cancer arising from a specific type of white blood cell called plasma cells. Plasma cells are made in the bone marrow and Myeloma develops where there is active bone marrow. Common sites include the bones of the spine, pelvis, rib cage and skull. Myeloma is often called multiple myeloma because it can occur in several places.

What are plasma cells?

Plasma cells are an important part of the immune system; they make proteins called antibodies, which help fight infection. In myeloma, the plasma cells become abnormal, multiply uncontrollably and crowd the bone marrow. The resulting overcrowding means there is not sufficient space for making the normal white cells, red cells and platelets. Abnormal plasma cells produce a type of abnormal antibody known as paraprotein, which has no useful function and is not able to fight infections. The measurement of the presence of paraprotein is often used to diagnose myeloma and monitor disease progression.

Who is affected by myeloma?

The risk of myeloma increases with age and mainly occurs in people over 65 years, and it is rare in people under 40. It is almost twice as common in black people compared to white and Asian people, and is more common in men than in women.

Around 59% myeloma cases in the UK each year are diagnosed in people aged 70 and over (2011-2013). In the UK in 2013, there were 5,500 new cases of myeloma – that’s 15 cases diagnosed every day. In 2014, over 56 people each week died from myeloma, 2928 in total.