Last modified: 12 January 2013
What is multiple myeloma?
- Multiple myeloma (also referred to as plasmacytoma or Morbus Kahler) is a malignant degeneration of the plasma cells. Reproduction of the cells in the bone marrow gets out of control.
- The pathologically changed plasma cells produce antibodies or simply antibody fragments - so-called paraproteins. These antibodies have identical physicochemical properties; they are produced by a so-called clone of plasma cells and are also called monoclonal proteins.
- The production of paraproteins suppresses the formation of normal antibodies, making the patient more susceptible to infections.
- The growth of the healthy, blood-forming cells in the bone marrow is inhibited. The lack of healthy red and white blood cells results in fatigue, weakness, headache and increased susceptibility to infection.
- The multiplication of myeloma cells in the bone marrow, their interaction with so-called bone marrow stroma (stroma is the supporting tissue of an organ or a tumor) and the activation of immune cells result in increased stimulation of osteoclasts. Osteoclasts are cells which can break down the bone substance. This results in loss of bone substance and bone defects, which in turn can lead to fractures and pain.
- The dissolution of bone tissue releases increased calcium. An increase in the blood calcium values can lead to various complications such as kidney damage, tiredness, confusion, heart rhythm disturbances, nausea and vomiting.
- The formation of large quantities of paraproteins can bring about a major increase in the protein content of the blood. As part of the protein is eliminated via the kidneys, the protein can block the renal tubules, thus impairing the kidney function.
- Various forms of multiple myeloma are known. These differ in terms of the structure of the antibodies produced.
- Multiple myeloma can exist for years without noticeable signs of illness. As a rule, the effects of the illness described here do not occur until the disease has been present for a long period of time.
- To the present day, the question as to why multiple myeloma develops remains largely unanswered.
- Although the disease occurs somewhat more often among close family members (parents/siblings), multiple myeloma is not a hereditary disease in the narrower sense.
For additional information on multiple myeloma click here.