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What is Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myeloma, commonly referred to as myeloma, is a blood cancer that is associated with the abnormal behavior and uncontrolled growth of a type of white blood cell – the plasma cell. Plasma cells are made in the bone marrow – the spongy tissue found inside bones – and are an important component of the body’s immune system because they produce antibodies. In myeloma, abnormal plasma cells (also known as myeloma cells) interfere with the production of normal healthy blood cells in the bone marrow and overproduce inactive clones of abnormal antibodies that can negatively affect different parts of the body such as the bones and kidneys. The cause or causes of myeloma remain unknown.

Every day, 8 Canadians are diagnosed with myeloma, yet in spite of its growing prevalence, the disease remains relatively unknown. To date there is no cure for myeloma, however advancements in research and treatment are enabling those impacted by myeloma to live better and longer lives than ever before. More research leading to new therapies or new combinations of therapies are required to find a cure.


Good Cells Gone Bad

Cancer is a result of genetic material (DNA) in cells being damaged during their development. These damaged or abnormal cells do not function properly and begin to multiply uncontrollably.

In myeloma: 

  • Too many plasma cells are produced and they "crowd out" other types of cells (like red blood cells and platelets) that our body needs to be healthy
  • These abnormal plasma cells only produce one type of antibody, known as M-protein (paraprotein). Multiple myeloma is often diagnosed and monitored through the measurement of this paraprotein.   

Where "Multiple Myeloma" Gets its Name

Unlike most cancers, myeloma does not exist as a lump or a tumour. Instead, myeloma cells multiply in the bone marrow and interferes with the production of good, healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

As a result, myeloma affects several places in the body where bone marrow is normally active in adults (ie, the bones of the spine, skull, pelvis, rib cage, long bones in arms and legs and areas around the shoulders and hips) – which is why it's often referred to as multiple myeloma.

Most of the symptoms and complications associated with myeloma are caused by the build-up of abnormal plasma cells in the bone marrow and the presence of M-protein (paraprotein) in the blood and/or urine.

The Relapsing-remitting Nature of Myeloma

Myeloma is what is known as a relapsing-remitting cancer. That means it alternates between periods of:

  • Symptoms and/or complications that need to be treated
  • Stable disease that do not require treatment (remission)

A relapse is when myeloma returns or becomes active again after a period of treatment.

Multiple Myeloma Patient Handbook

Designed to provide educational support to patients, caregivers, families and friends, this handbook gives accurate, reliable, and clear information on myeloma. Topics cover its causes and effects, how it is diagnosed and the treatment options available in Canada.

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ADDITIONAL EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES