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Myeloma: in a nutshell

Myeloma: in a nutshell

Myeloma is a form of cancer which affects plasma cells. These are a specialised type of lymphocyte, which in turn is one type of white blood cell. They are normally responsible for producing antibodies as part of the body’s reaction to infection. If not treated it can cause bone damage and is sometimes referred to as "bone cancer" - this is misleading because it affects the bone marrow, where blood cells are produced.

How common is it?

  • There are about 5,000 people diagnosed with multiple myeloma each year in the UK.
  • About 1 person in 200 will develop myeloma at some time in their life.
  • The most common age at which people are diagnosed with myeloma is about 72 years.

How is it treated?

If you have been found to have myeloma but you have no symptoms (asymptomatic or smouldering myeloma) you are unlikely to receive treatment straight away.

The main types of treatment for myeloma are the use of anti-cancer drugs (chemotherapy) and for patients who are otherwise fit and well, stem cell transplantation. You may also receive local radiation treatment (radiotherapy). Within the last decade a number of new drugs have been introduced for treatment of myeloma; these are called novel agents, even though their use is now well established. Novel agents are thalidomide, bortezomib (Velcade™) or lenalidomide (Revlimid™).

Standard practice for treating newly diagnosed patients is to include at least one novel agent. The bone damage caused by myeloma can be improved or blocked by drugs called bisphosphonates. These are normally given to all patients from the time of diagnosis, even if you are having no other treatment.

More information

This section of the website explains more about the disease, tests and treatment with details of organisations which offer help and support.

If you are not sure if this is the information which you need, please phone our clinical information officer on 020 7504 2260 or email patientinfo@beatingbloodcancers.org.uk to discuss which information is relevant for you.

Last updated: 20/06/2014