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Multiple myeloma

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on July 20, 2022.

Although it only accounts for about 1 percent of overall cancers, multiple myeloma is the third most prevalent blood cancer after non-Hodgkin lymphoma and leukemia. According to the American Cancer Society, about 35,780 new cases of multiple myeloma will be diagnosed in 2024—19,520 in men and 16,260 in women.

No multiple myeloma patient is the same. Get personalized treatment.

At City of Hope, our multidisciplinary cancer care team of medical oncologists, hematologists and supportive care clinicians work together to diagnose the disease in an efficient, timely manner and explain the treatment options available to you, so you can make informed decisions about your care. Various treatments are used for multiple myeloma. Which is appropriate for you generally depends on the symptoms you are experiencing, among other factors. Patients with early-stage multiple myeloma with no symptoms, for example, may be closely monitored by their doctor, through an approached called active surveillance. Those with symptoms may be treated with chemotherapy or targeted therapy, and sometimes, stem cell transplantation. Other treatments, such as radiation therapy, interventional radiology and surgery, may also be recommended in certain circumstances.

This overview will cover the basic facts about multiple myeloma, including:

If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of multiple myeloma and want to schedule an appointment for diagnostic testing, or if you’re interested in a second opinion for your multiple myeloma diagnosis and treatment plan, call us or chat online with a member of our team.

What is multiple myeloma?

What causes multiple myeloma?

While cancer research has not determined the exact cause of multiple myeloma, several factors may increase the risk of plasma cell neoplasm diseases.

The risk factors for multiple myeloma include:

  • Obesity
  • Family history, with a sibling or parent who has had the disease increasing its likelihood as much as four times when compared to people without a family history of the disease
  • Personal history of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), an abnormal line of antibody-producing plasma cells that begin to produce monoclonal antibody proteins (M proteins)
  • Radiation exposure

Learn more about the risk factors for multiple myeloma

Who gets multiple myeloma?

The incidence of multiple myeloma is twice as high in African Americans as in whites. Men are at a slightly increased risk of developing the disease compared to women.

Only a very small percentage of young adults are diagnosed with multiple myeloma, so young people are not considered a high-risk group. The majority of those diagnosed are over 65 years old. The average age at diagnosis is 69, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Adrain M

Adrian M.

Hodgkin Lymphoma

"I am thankful for City of Hope. I felt genuine concern and empathy from the doctors and nurses. No one made me feel silly about the questions I had, and they were all thoughtfully answered. As I continue my care at City of Hope, I know my doctors and everyone there truly cares about me and my well-being. I am not just a number—they all know me and my family. That alone is extraordinary to me."


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Multiple myeloma types

Multiple myeloma symptoms

The early stages of multiple myeloma often display no symptoms. Symptoms typically don’t appear in multiple myeloma patients until the disease reaches an advanced stage. In some cases, the disease is discovered during a routine blood test or a test to diagnose another condition.

Multiple myeloma symptoms vary for each person. Common symptoms include:

  • Bone pain, often in the back or ribs
  • Unexplained bone fractures or lesions, usually in the spine
  • Fatigue, anemia (a shortage of red blood cells) and/or feeling of weakness
  • Recurrent infections and/or fevers
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Increased thirst and urination

In addition to symptoms, multiple myeloma patients may develop one or more of the following conditions:

  • Low blood counts, including a low platelet count
  • Hypercalcemia (high calcium levels)
  • Kidney failure
  • Spinal cord compression

Learn more about the symptoms of multiple myeloma

Diagnosing multiple myeloma

Treatment options for multiple myeloma

Multiple myeloma treatment generally depends on the stage of the cancer, whether you are a candidate for a stem cell transplant, and other factors, such as personal preferences and needs. Treatment options for multiple myeloma may include:

Once you're treated for multiple myeloma, your care team will continue to monitor you so they'll know right away if your myeloma has relapsed and can evaluate whether you need additional treatments.

Learn more about treatment options for multiple myeloma

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