Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer
Myeloma is one of three main types of blood cancer, the other two being leukemia and lymphoma5.
Blood cancer is a type of cancer that affects the production and function of blood cells. There are several different types of blood cancer depending on the type of blood cell and how it is affected. Often the cancer starts in the bone marrow where blood is produced from stem cells. Stem cells in the bone marrow mature and develop into three types of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. In most blood cancers, the normal blood cell development process is interrupted by the uncontrolled growth of an abnormal type of blood cell. These abnormal or cancerous blood cells prevent the blood from performing many of its usual functions, like fighting off infections or preventing serious bleeding1
Incidence of blood cancer
The incidence varies per type of blood cancer, with some being very common and others being rather rare. With 386,000 new cases worldwide, non-Hodgkin Lymphoma was the 10th most common type among all cancers in 2012, followed by leukemia with 352,000 new cases. In 2012, multiple myeloma and Hodgkin Lymphoma were the 23rd and 25th most common cancers worldwide, with 114,000 and 66,000 new cases respectively6.
What is multiple myeloma?
Multiple myeloma is a cancer formed by malignant plasma cells. Normal plasma cells are found in the bone marrow and are an important part of the immune system. The immune system is made up of several types of cells that work together to fight infections and other diseases. Plasma cells are mainly found in the bone marrow. They mature from a type of cells of the immune system (the B-cells) and make the antibodies that help the body attack and kill germs. When plasma cells become cancerous and grow out of control, they can produce a tumour called a plasmacytoma. These tumours generally develop in a bone, but they are also rarely found in other tissues. One single cancerous plasma cell is called an isolated (or solitary) plasmacytoma. More plasmacytomas constitute a multiple myeloma1.
How common is multple myeloma?
Multiple myeloma is the 23rd most common type of cancer in the world. In 2012 114,000 new cases of multiple myeloma were diagnosed2. Multiple myeloma is considered to be incurable but treatable. Remissions may be induced with steroids, chemotherapy, proteasome inhibitors, immunomodulatory drugs such as thalidomide or lenalidomide, and stem cell transplants. Radiation therapy is sometimes used to reduce pain from bone lesions3. New immunotherapies are offering new hope to multiple myeloma clinicians and patients4.
1. What is multple myeloma?
American Cancer Society, last revised January 2016.
2. Cancer facts & figures – Worldwide data,
World Cancer Research Fund, 2014.
3. Radiotherapy for bone pain,
Cancer Research UK, March 2016.
4. ASCO Annual Meeting 2017: Advances in Immunotherapy for Multiple Myeloma and Mesothelioma, and Targeted Therapies for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer and HER2-Positive Breast Cancer,
ASCO Cancer.Net, June 2017.
5. Blood cancers.
American Society of Hematology. Cited on 01/03/2018.
6. Cancer Facts & figures. Worldwide data.
World Cancer Research Fund International. Cited on 01/03/2018.