Medical Q&As

Myeloma - explain?

What are the symptoms of myeloma? Is it life threatening?

The term myeloma is derived from “myelo”, which refers to the bone marrow and “oma”, which means tumour. Therefore myeloma is a form of tumour in the bone marrow. The specific cell type in the marrow that is affected is called the plasma cell. These cells are involved in antibody production and are an important element in the body’s defence mechanisms. Myeloma causes disruption to the immune system and also displaces the normal marrow cells. Myeloma cells can invade and damage bone and can enter the blood and spread to other bone marrow sites. The condition is referred to as multiple myeloma when several bone marrow sites are involved. The commonest sites of involvement are the pelvis, ribs, spine, skull, hips and shoulders. You specifically ask about symptoms and there is no straightforward answer to your question because the symptoms will depend on which bones are affected. Symptoms will also vary depending on the level of activity of the disease. For example one person might have a slow growing tumour in one site only and another person might have a very aggressive form of the disease involving multiple sites associated with multiple medical complications. Therefore comprehensive assessment is necessary in order to stage the disease, which means that the doctors establish its extent and severity. The stage of the disease determines the treatment plan. Myeloma can be a life-threatening disease especially if it occurs in an aggressive form and affects multiple sites.