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Myeloma - Bone Marrow Cancer

Plasma cells help the body's immune system fight disease by producing substances called antibodies. Multiple myeloma occurs when plasma cells grow out of control. Too many plasma cells can form a tumor in the bone marrow called a myeloma. Many tumors are called multiple myeloma.

The excess growth of plasma cells interferes with body's ability to make red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. This causes anemia and makes a person more likely to get infections and have abnormal bleeding.

As the cancer cells grow in the bone marrow, they cause pain and destruction of the bones. If the bones in the spine are affected, it can put pressure on the nerves, resulting in numbness or paralysis.

Multiple myeloma mainly affects older adults. A history of radiation therapy raises your risk for this type of cancer.

Risk factors

To date there is no way to prevent developing multiple myeloma, however, there are certain risk factors have been associated with the disease including:

  • A family history of multiple myeloma
  • Exposure to chemicals such as herbicides, rubber, textiles, petroleum products, or heavy metals
  • Exposure to radiation
  • History of chronic infections
  • Multiple myeloma is more common among African Americans than caucasions

Signs and Symptoms

Many people will show no signs of myeloma. When symptoms are present, they may include:

  • Anemia
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Numbness in the legs
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Bone pain or fractures
  • Problems with urination
  • Infections (either viral or bacterial)

For more information on myeloma prevention, contact the Norton Cancer Institute Resource Center at 1-800-555-6772 or (502) 629-5500 or email  A health care professional will research and respond to your question within 48-hours.  Exceptions may include weekends and holidays.


Myeloma is often difficult to detect.  If your physician suspects the disease, he or she may perform diagnostic tests including:

  • X-rays
  • Blood and urine tests
  • CT and/or bone scans
  • Bone marrow aspiration
  • Biopsy

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