What is myeloma?

Myeloma is a type of cancer that develops from plasma cells in the bone marrow. As bone marrow is found in multiple areas of the body (e.g. the spine, skull, shoulders, ribs and pelvis) the disease is often called multiple myeloma.

The DNA of plasma cells becomes damaged and this causes the cells to become cancerous. These abnormal plasma cells, known as myeloma cells, divide and spread throughout the bone marrow. The myeloma cells crowd out the bone marrow, so there is not enough space to make enough normal blood cells.

Read more about myeloma.

Myeloma symptoms

Myeloma can cause a range of symptoms because of its effect on the bones, bone marrow, blood, urine and kidneys. You may have:

  • bone pain or a broken bone that has not been caused by an obvious injury
  • frequent infections or an infection that is difficult to shake off
  • tiredness, shortness of breath or a racing heart caused by a low level of red blood cells (anaemia)
  • kidney problems caused by the excess amounts of paraprotein produced by the myeloma cells
  • heavy nosebleeds or easy bruising due to having fewer platelets
  • feeling sick, drowsy or confused because of too much calcium in the blood (hypercalcaemia)
  • abnormal blood counts as abnormal plasma cells may stop the bone marrow from making enough normal blood cells.

Less common symptoms of myeloma include weight loss or fever.

Myeloma statistics

  • Myeloma is not a common disease. About 1500 people in Australia are diagnosed with the disease each year.
  • Myeloma usually occurs in people aged 60 and over.
  • It is rare in people under 40.
  • The disease is becoming more common in the elderly, which is partly explained by the ageing population.
  • It is found more often in men than women.

The aim of this information is to help you understand about myeloma. We cannot advise you about the best treatment for you. You need to discuss this with your doctors. However, we hope this information will answer some of your questions and help you think about the questions you would like to ask your doctors or other health carers.