Multiple myeloma, also called Kahler’s disease, is a type of cancer that begins in plasma cells – white blood cells that produce antibodies. Plasma cells usually work in the body’s immune defense system and help produce antibodies. In cases of multiple myeloma, however, too many plasma cells build up in the bone marrow and form tumors in many bones of the body. These tumors may keep the bone marrow from making enough healthy blood cells. Normally, the bone marrow makes stem cells (immature cells) that become three types of mature blood cells:
- Red blood cells that carry oxygen and other substances to all tissues of the body.
- White blood cells that fight infection and disease.
- Platelets that form blood clots to help prevent bleeding.
As the number of myeloma cells increases, fewer red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are made. The myeloma cells also damage and weaken the bone.
Sometimes multiple myeloma does not cause any signs or symptoms. This is called smoldering multiple myeloma. It may be found when a blood or urine test is done for another condition.
To learn more about multiple myeloma, visit the webpage for the Hematologic Oncology (Blood Cancers) Treatment Center at Dana-Farber.