Multiple myeloma is a cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell. Healthy plasma cells help fight infections by making proteins called antibodies. Antibodies find and attack germs.
In multiple myeloma, cancerous plasma cells build up in bone marrow. The bone marrow is the soft matter inside bones where blood cells are made. In the bone marrow, the cancer cells crowd out healthy blood cells. Rather than make helpful antibodies, the cancer cells make proteins that don’t work right. This leads to complications of multiple myeloma.
Early in multiple myeloma, there might be no symptoms. When signs and symptoms happen, they can include:
Bone pain, especially in the spine, chest or hips.
- Loss of appetite.
- Mental fogginess or confusion.
- Weight loss.
- Needing to urinate often.
Multiple myeloma begins with one plasma cell in the bone marrow. The bone marrow is the soft matter inside bones where blood cells are made. Something happens that turns the plasma cell into a cancerous myeloma cell. The myeloma cell begins making a lot more myeloma cells quickly.
Healthy cells grow at a set pace and die at a set time. Cancer cells don’t follow these rules. They make a lot of extra cells. The cells continue living when healthy cells would die. In myeloma, the cancer cells build up in the bone marrow and crowd out the healthy blood cells. This leads to tiredness and not being able to fight infections.
The myeloma cells continue trying to make antibodies, as healthy plasma cells do. But the body can’t use these antibodies, called monoclonal proteins or M proteins. Instead, the M proteins build up in the body and cause problems, such as damage to the kidneys. Myeloma cells can damage bones and increase the risk of broken bones.