Myeloma (also known as multiple myeloma) is a cancer of the bone marrow.

What is myeloma?

Myeloma is a malignancy of the plasma cells, which is a type of white blood cell within the bone marrow (the spongy tissue within the bone). Bone marrow is predominantly found in the spine, pelvis, ribs, skull and shoulders.2

Plasma cells are part of the immune system and produce antibodies that help bacteria and other pathogens.2 When plasma cells become malignant, they multiply and spread throughout the bone marrow so that there is less room for healthy cells to develop and grow. 2

Myeloma is often known as multiple myeloma (and occasionally as myelomatosis or plasma cell myeloma) due to the multiple sites of bone marrow lesions found at diagnosis.2

Signs and symptoms of myeloma

Some common symptoms of myeloma include: 1

  • Fatigue and tiredness as a result of low iron (anaemia)
  • Temperatures
  • Chronic infection
  • Increased frequency of fractures or broken bones
  • Pain in the bones, often felt in the back and rib area
  • Bruising and bleeding that occurs easily

Having one or all of these symptoms does not mean you have myeloma, as many conditions can cause these symptoms. However, it is important if you do experience any of the above, to see your doctor.

Stages of myeloma

The stages of multiple myeloma are based on the Revised International Staging System (R-ISS). 4

The stages range from stage 1 (early stage myeloma) through to stage 3 (more advanced myeloma). This staging system is based on following four features: 4

  • The chromosomal changes that have affected the abnormal genes – which can be tested via cytogenic testing. There are three chromosomal changes that are considered ‘high risk’ for a poorer outcome of myeloma:4
    • Missing pieces of chromosome 17
    • Translocation (exchange of pieces of material) between chromosomes 4 and 14
    • Translocation between chromosomes 14 and 16
  • The level of lactic dehydrogenase (LDH) in the blood. LDH is an enzyme involved in cell metabolism. A high LDH suggests the disease is more advanced.5
  • The amount of albumin (type of protein) in the blood. Lower levels of albumin are seen in myeloma. 5
  • The amount of beta-2-microglobulin (type of protein made by myeloma cells) – higher levels of this protein is associated with a poorer prognosis. 5

Treatment for myeloma

Frequently asked questions

Is myeloma hereditary?

Myeloma is not genetic ie. Is not passed on from parent to offspring, and it is relatively rare for more than one family member to have myeloma.2  However having a first degree relative with myeloma gives you a slightly increased risk of developing the disorder.

The exact cause of multiple myeloma is not known, but gene mutations that result in myeloma seem to be acquired through exposure to certain viruses such as HIV, chemicals such as dioxins and high-level radiation in some patients. 2

Are there risk factors for myeloma?

Some factors that can increase the risk of developing myeloma include;1,2,3

  • Age – multiple myeloma is often diagnosed in people over the age of 65 years
  • Men are slightly more likely to develop multiple myeloma compared to women
  • Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing multiple myeloma
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, such as dioxins as well as exposure to radiation can increase the risk
  • Exposure to certain viruses such as HIV have also been associated with an increased risk of myeloma.
How common is myeloma?

Myeloma accounts for approximately 360 cancer diagnoses in New Zealand each year.9


For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Cancer Australia, Australian Government. (2018). What are the symptoms of myeloma? Retrieved on 2nd April from
  2. Cancer Council. (2019). Myeloma. Retrieved on 3rd April 2019 from
  3. American Cancer Society. (2018). Risk factors for multiple myeloma. Retrieved on 11th April 2019 from
  4. American Cancer Society. (2018). Multiple Myeloma Stages. Retrieved on 11th April 2019 from
  5. American Cancer Society. (2018). Tests to find multiple myeloma. Retrieved on 11th April 2019 from
  6. Leukaemia Foundation. (2018) Myeloma – A guide for patients and families. Retrieved on 11th April 2019 from
  7. American Cancer Society. (2018). Treatment options for multiple myeloma, by stage. Retrieved on 11th April 2019 from
  8. Myeloma UK. (n.d). Smouldering Myeloma. Retrieved on 11th April 2019 from
  9. Multiple Myeloma New Zealand (2020). About us. Retrieved on 30 October 2020 from

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