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Understanding Myeloma Cells and Monoclonal Gammopathy

Monoclonal gammopathy begins in plasma cells. Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old, they die, and new cells take their place. For unknown reasons, in monoclonal gammopathy, this orderly process goes wrong.
In monoclonal gammopathy, there are abnormal plasma cells in the bone marrow but there is no cancer. The abnormal plasma cells produce M protein that may be found during a routine blood or urine test. In most people, the amount of M protein stays the same and there are no symptoms or problems. In some people, monoclonal gammopathy may later become a more serious condition, such as multiple myeloma or lymphoma.

(Click Multiple Myeloma for more information about this type of plasma cell cancer.)

How Common Is Monoclonal Gammopathy?

Monoclonal gammopathy occurs in about 1 percent of people over the age of 50 and 3 percent of people over the age of 70.

Are There Symptoms?

In most cases, people with monoclonal gammopathy do not have symptoms.

Diagnosing Monoclonal Gammopathy

This condition is usually found by chance during routine laboratory tests for other reasons. In monoclonal gammopathy:
  • The amount of M protein in the blood stays the same
  • Less than 10 percent of the bone marrow is made up of plasma cells
  • The person has no signs of cancer.

Treatment Options

Treatment for monoclonal gammopathy involves regular monitoring (known as watchful waiting) and follow-up visits to the doctor. Regular follow-up care is very important because protein levels can change and progression to cancer can occur. With close monitoring, these changes will be noticed early (when treatment is more successful). Follow-up visits will usually include:
  • A physical exam
  • Blood tests
  • Other tests that can be used to see if the level of abnormal protein has changed.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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