Types of myeloma

There are different types of myeloma. They may cause different symptoms, but they are all usually treated in the same way.

About types of myeloma

There are different types of myeloma. They may cause different symptoms, but they are all usually treated in the same way. We have more information about treating myeloma.

To understand about the different types of myeloma, it can help to know a little bit about plasma cells.

What are plasma cells?

Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell made in the bone marrow. White blood cells are part of our immune system and plasma cells help to fight infection. They make different types of antibodies which travel in the blood and help fight viruses in the body. These antibodies are also called immunoglobulins. If you have an infection, your bone marrow produces more plasma cells and immunoglobulins to fight against it.

What are immunoglobulins (antibodies)?

Immunoglobulins are Y-shaped structures that are made up of:

  • 2 long protein chains, called heavy chains
  • 2 shorter protein chains, called light chains.

There are 2 types of light chain. They are called kappa and lambda. These are Greek letters. You may sometimes see the Greek symbols for them used.

There are 5 types of heavy chain, referred to by the letters A, D, E, G and M.

Immunoglobulins are named after the type of heavy chain they are made up of. This means there are 5 immunoglobulins (Ig), called IgA, IgD, IgE, IgG or IgM.

 

An immunoglobulin
Image: An immunoglobulin

 

Myeloma cells

Normally, plasma cells are made in a controlled way. With myeloma, the process is out of control and lots of abnormal (cancerous) plasma cells are made. These are called myeloma cells.

The myeloma cells fill up the bone marrow. This makes it harder for the bone marrow to make enough other normal blood cells. This causes some of the symptoms symptoms of myeloma.

Myeloma cells usually make an abnormal immunoglobulin. This could be any one of the 5 types of immunoglobulin. The abnormal immunoglobulin is sometimes called a paraprotein, or M protein.

Having fewer normal immunoglobulins means it can be harder for your body to fight infections.

Types of myeloma

Each type of myeloma is named after the abnormal immunoglobulin (paraprotein) the myeloma cells make.

The most common type of myeloma is IgG, followed by IgA. The least common types are IgM, IgD and IgE.

There is also a type of myeloma called light chain myeloma, or Bence Jones myeloma. This is when the myeloma cells make too many light chains. This type of myeloma does not make an abnormal immunoglobulin. The light chains can be detected in a blood or urine test.

There is a rare type of myeloma, called non-secretory myeloma, that does not produce light chains or abnormal immunoglobulins.

Plasma cell conditions related to myeloma

There are other conditions that affect plasma cells, which can sometimes develop into myeloma. These conditions do not normally cause symptoms. They are usually diagnosed after a routine blood test. Usually, you do not need treatment. But your doctor will regularly monitor you with blood tests.

Plasma cell conditions related to myeloma include:

  • Smouldering myeloma - smouldering myeloma is sometimes called asymptomatic myeloma. Asymptomatic means you have no symptoms. We have more information about monitoring smouldering myeloma.
  • MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance) - MGUS is a non-cancerous condition that affects plasma cells. It is also sometimes called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance. We have more information about MGUS.
  • Solitary plasmacytoma - sometimes abnormal plasma cells are found in a bone in only one area of the body. This is called solitary plasmacytoma. Rarely, it can be outside the bone. This condition is often treated with radiotherapy. If you have a solitary plasmacytoma there is a risk you may develop myeloma. Your doctor will regularly monitor you with blood tests to check for this.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our myeloma information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Myeloma: diagnosis and management. NICE guideline [NG35]. Published: 10 February 2016 Last updated: 25 October 2018. Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng35/chapter/recommendations Accessed: 19/07/22

    Jonathan Sive et al., on behalf of the British Society of Haematology. British Journal of Haematology. Guidelines on the diagnosis, investigation and initial treatment of myeloma: a British Society for Haematology/UK Myeloma Forum Guideline. Published: 21 March 2021 Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bjh.17410 Accessed: 19/07/22

    M.A. Dimopoulos et al. Annals of oncology. European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO). Multiple myeloma: EHA-ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Volume 32, ISSUE 3, P309-322, March 01, 2021. Available from: https://www.annalsofoncology.org/article/S0923-7534(20)43169-2/fulltext Accessed: 19/07/22


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Anne Parker, Consultant Haematologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

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