Multiple myeloma (also known as MM, myeloma, plasma cell myeloma, or as Kahler's disease after Otto Kahler) is a presently incurable hematological malignancy of plasma cells, the cells of the immune system that produce antibodies. Its prognosis despite therapy is generally poor, and treatment may involve chemotherapy and stem cell transplant. more...
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms can include: malaise, bone pain, anemia, infections (due to decreased immunity) and fractures (due to breakdown of bone by malignant cells, as well as a tendency to brittle bones). Often, the diagnosis of multiple myeloma is made incidentally during routine blood tests for other conditions. The antibody that is produced in excess may cause specific medical problems, such as amyloid, acute renal failure and chronic renal failure, polyneuropathy and other disorders.
A mnemonic doctors use to remember the common tetrad of multiple myeloma is CRAB - C = Calcium (elevated), R =Renal failure, A = Anemia, B = Bone lesions.
The existence of unexplained anemia, kidney dysfunction, a high erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and a high serum protein (especially raised globulin) may suggest further testing. A doctor will then order protein electrophoresis of the blood and urine, on which a paraprotein (monoclonal protein, or M protein) band can be noticed. A type of paraprotein is the Bence Jones protein which is paraprotein composed of free light chains (see below). Quantitative measurements of the paraprotein are necessary to determine the severity of the disease. The paraprotein is a deviant immunoglobulin produced by the tumor clone. Very rarely, the myeloma is nonsecretory (not producing immunoglobulins).
In theory, myeloma can produce all classes of immunoglobulin, but IgD, IgM and IgE myeloma are very rare compared to IgG and IgA. In addition, light and heavy chains (the building blocks of antibodies) may be secreted in isolation: κ- or λ-light chains or any of the five types of heavy chains (α-, γ-, δ-, ε- or μ-heavy chains).
Additional findings are: a raised calcium (when myeloma cells are breaking down bone, releasing calcium into the bloodstream) and decreased renal function, which may be due to paraprotein deposition in the kidney).
The workup of suspected multiple myeloma includes a skeletal survey. This is a series of X-rays of the skull, axial skeleton and proximal long bones. Myeloma deposits appear as "lytic lesions" (with local disappearance of normal bone due to resorption), and on the skull X-ray as "punched-out lesions". A CT scan may be performed to measure the size of soft tissue plasmacytomas.
A bone marrow biopsy is usually performed to estimate the percentage of bone marrow occupied by plasma cells. This percentage is used in the diagnostic criteria for myeloma. Immunohistochemistry (staining particular cell types using antibodies against surface proteins) can detect plasma cells which express immunoglobulin in the cytoplasm but usually not on the surface; myeloma cells are typically CD56, CD138 positive and CD19 negative. Cytogenetics may also performed in myeloma for prognostic purposes.
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