About myeloma cancer

What is myeloma?

Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is the soft spongy material found in large bones. It makes three types of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Plasma cells, which are a kind of white blood cell, are also found in bone marrow. Normally, plasma cells make proteins called antibodies (immunoglobulins) to fight infection and help build up immunity to disease.

With myeloma the plasma cells are abnormal and are called myeloma cells. These myeloma cells usually make a large amount of one type of abnormal antibody. This is known as a paraprotein and can be found in blood and urine.

The paraprotein cannot fight infection properly and can reduce the amount of normal antibodies being made. In the bone marrow the myeloma cells can also leave less room for normal plasma cells to develop.

Multiple myeloma: Myeloma cells can spread from the bone marrow into the harder part of bone and cause damage to bone tissue. The marrow of more than one bone can be affected, sometimes several bones. For this reason, myeloma is often called multiple myeloma.

How common is myeloma?

In Ireland around 300 people are diagnosed each year with myeloma.