There are different types of myeloma. There are also other conditions that affect plasma cells which are related to myeloma.
If you're struggling to find what you need, call our Support line on 0808 808 0000 (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)More ways to contact us
Myeloma is a type of cancer that develops from plasma cells. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell made in the bone marrow. To understand myeloma, it can help to know a little bit about the bone marrow and plasma cells.
Bone marrow is a spongy material inside our bones. It is part of the body’s immune system, which helps to protect us from infection and disease.
Bone marrow produces all the blood cells needed by the body. All blood cells in the bone marrow begin as stem cells. These stem cells then develop into three different types of blood cell:
Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell which fight infection. They make immunoglobulins (see below), which are also known as antibodies. These travel in the blood and help to fight any viruses or bacteria in the body. If you have an infection, your bone marrow produces more plasma cells and immunoglobulins to fight whatever is causing the infection.
Immunoglobulins are made up of two matching and shorter light chains, and two matching and longer heavy chains.
There are two types of light chain. They are called kappa and lambda. There are five types of heavy chain. They are called A, D, E, G and M.
Each immunoglobulin is named after the type of heavy chain they have. They are called IgA, IgD, IgE, IgG and IgM. The ‘Ig’ means immunoglobulin.
Normally, plasma cells are made in a controlled way. But in people with myeloma, the process is out of control and large numbers of abnormal plasma cells (myeloma cells) are made.
The myeloma cells fill up the bone marrow and can damage the bone. This can cause bone thinning, pain and sometimes fractures. Myeloma cells can spread from the bone marrow to bones in different parts of the body. This is why myeloma is sometimes called multiple myeloma.
If the bone marrow is full of myeloma cells, it can be harder for it to make enough normal white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.
Myeloma cells make an abnormal immunoglobulin, which cannot fight infection. This could be any one of the five types of immunoglobulin (IgA, IgD, IgE, IgG or IgM). The abnormal immunoglobulin is called a paraprotein, or M protein.
If you have myeloma, you may make less normal immunoglobulins than usual. This means it can be harder for your body to fight infections.
Order or download our free booklet about myeloma. It covers symptoms, diagnosis, possible treatments, and practical issues.
Worrying about cancer can have a big impact on your feelings. Read our advice to help you cope with your emotions.
If you're deciding which charity to support with your fundraising, talk to us. We want to be there for everyone affected by cancer, and we need your help.
What's happening near you? Find out about support groups, where to get information and how to get involved with Macmillan where you are.
Our Online Community is always open and full of people ready to support you.
Myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells in the bone marrow. If you're suffering from myeloma, or know someone who is, join this support group.
We rely on a number of sources to gather evidence for our information. If you’d like further information on the sources we use, please feel free to contact us on: email@example.com
All our information is reviewed by cancer or other relevant professionals to ensure that it’s accurate and reflects the best evidence available. We thank all those people who have provided expert review for the information on this page.
Our information is also reviewed by people affected by cancer to ensure it is as relevant and accessible as possible. Thank you to all those people who reviewed what you're reading and have helped our information to develop.
You could help us too when you join our Cancer Voices Network – find out more at: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/cancervoices
Need to talk? Call us free* 0808 808 00 00 7 days a week, 8am-8pm
© Macmillan Cancer Support, registered charity in England and Wales (261017), Scotland (SC039907) and the Isle of Man (604). Also operating in Northern Ireland. A company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales company number 2400969. Isle of Man company number 4694F. Registered office: 89 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7UQ. VAT no: 668265007
We make every effort to ensure that the information we provide is accurate and up-to-date but it should not be relied upon as a substitute for specialist professional advice tailored to your situation. So far as is permitted by law, Macmillan does not accept liability in relation to the use of any information contained in this publication or third party information or websites included or referred to in it.