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Multiple Myeloma

Understanding Myeloma Cells

Myeloma, like other cancers, begins in 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. In cancer, this orderly process goes wrong -- new cells form when the body does not need them, and old cells do not die when they should -- these extra cells can form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.
Myeloma begins when a plasma cell becomes abnormal. The abnormal cell divides to make copies of itself by dividing again and again, making more and more abnormal cells. The abnormal plasma cells are myeloma cells. Myeloma cells:
  • Make antibodies called M proteins
  • Collect in the bone marrow
  • May crowd out normal blood cells
  • Collect in the solid part of the bone.
The disease is called "multiple myeloma" because it affects many bones. If myeloma cells collect in only one bone, the single mass is called a plasmacytoma. Multiple myeloma is the most common type of plasma cell tumor.

(Click Plasmacytoma for more information about this type of plasma cell tumor.)
Multiple myeloma is not bone cancer. Although it affects the bones, it begins in blood cells, not bone cells. Bone cancer is diagnosed and treated differently than multiple myeloma.

What Causes Multiple Myeloma?

No one knows the exact causes of this condition, and doctors can seldom explain why one person will get it and another person will not. However, research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop multiple myeloma. A risk factor is anything that increases a person's chances of developing a disease.
Specific multiple myeloma risk factors include:
  • Growing older (risk increases with age)
  • Being African American
  • Having a personal history of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS).
(Click Multiple Myeloma Causes for more information about risk factors for this condition.)
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