What is Multiple Myeloma?

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Multiple myeloma is a kind of blood cancer that develops in the bone marrow where plasma cells (a type of white blood cell) are found. The normal function of plasma cells is to synthesise proteins known as antibodies which help fight off infectious diseases.  In multiple myeloma, however, plasma cells undergo abnormal growth and form tumours in different areas of the bones.

Types of multiple myeloma

The different subtypes of myeloma are classified according to the type of immunoglobulin or protein produced by the myeloma cells.

Different immunoglobulins normally have different functions in the body. Each immunoglobulin has two heavy and two light chains. There are five different types of heavy chain and two types of light chain. The type of multiple myeloma is determined through a technique called immunofixation which analyses blood and urine samples to identify both the heavy (IgG, IgA, etc.) and light chains (kappa or lambda).

Approximately 65% of patients present IgG myeloma with either kappa or lambda light chains, while the second most common type is IgA with either of the light chains. IgD, IgE and IgM myelomas are fairly rare.

How many people does multiple myeloma affect?

Multiple myeloma corresponds to 10% of all bone marrow cancers. Myeloma is the second most common blood cancer and affects thousands of people across the world. It most typically develops in people aged 65–70 years. Multiple myeloma has a slightly higher incidence in men than in women. People of African descent present the highest risk of developing myeloma, while Asians have the lowest risk.



Substantiated information by:

Carlos Fernandez-Larrea
Gloria Garcia

Published: 20 February 2018
Updated: 20 February 2018


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