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Understanding Multiple Myeloma: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Etiology, Diagnostic Procedures, and Prognosis

Dr. Craig Smith, MD

4 Min read

Multiple myeloma is a complex and challenging form of cancer that affects plasma cells, a type of white blood cell found in the bone marrow. While its exact cause remains elusive, ongoing research delves into the interplay of genetic, environmental, and immunologic factors contributing to its development. In this comprehensive article, we will explore the various facets of multiple myeloma, including its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, insights into its etiology, diagnostic procedures, and the management of the disease, as well as considerations for prognosis.


The etiology of multiple myeloma encompasses a combination of factors:

  • Genetic Factors:
    • Genetic Predisposition: Evidence suggests a genetic predisposition to multiple myeloma, with individuals having a family history of the disease being at an increased risk. Specific genetic mutations and variations are under scrutiny to comprehend their role in myeloma development.

    • Chromosomal Abnormalities: Chromosomal abnormalities, such as translocations involving chromosomes 14 and 16 or chromosomes 4 and 14, are associated with multiple myeloma.

  • Environmental Factors:
    • Age and Gender: Multiple myeloma is more prevalent in older adults, and men are slightly more likely to develop the disease than women.

    • Race and Ethnicity: African Americans have a higher incidence of multiple myeloma compared to individuals of European descent, emphasizing potential contributions from both genetic and environmental factors.

  • Immunologic Factors:
    • Immune Dysregulation: Dysregulation of the immune system is implicated in the development of multiple myeloma, allowing abnormal plasma cells to evade the immune response.

    • Infections: Some studies suggest a potential link between infections and multiple myeloma, highlighting the role of persistent immune stimulation.

  • Precursor Conditions: Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance (MGUS) is considered a precursor condition to multiple myeloma. Understanding the factors leading to progression from MGUS to myeloma is an area of active research.

  • Bone Marrow Microenvironment: Interactions between malignant plasma cells and the bone marrow microenvironment, including stromal cells and immune cells, contribute to disease progression.

Diagnostic Procedures:

Diagnosing multiple myeloma involves a multifaceted approach:

  • Blood and Urine Tests:
    • Complete Blood Count (CBC): Measures levels of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

    • Blood Chemistry Tests: Assess levels of calcium, creatinine, and albumin. Elevated calcium and creatinine levels and decreased albumin levels may indicate kidney problems associated with myeloma.

    • Serum Protein Electrophoresis (SPEP) and Immunofixation: Identify and quantify abnormal proteins (M proteins) produced by myeloma cells.

  • Bone Marrow Biopsy: Extracts a small sample of bone marrow for microscopic examination to confirm the presence of abnormal plasma cells.

  • Imaging Studies: X-rays, MRI, CT Scan, and PET Scan: Identify bone lesions, fractures, and assess the extent of the disease.

  • Cytogenetic and Molecular Testing:

    • Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization (FISH): Identifies specific chromosomal abnormalities common in multiple myeloma.

    • Cytogenetic Analysis: Examines the chromosomes of myeloma cells for structural or numerical abnormalities.

  • Kidney Function Tests: Assess kidney function, as abnormalities are common in multiple myeloma.

  • Other Laboratory Tests: Beta-2 Microglobulin: Elevated levels associated with advanced stages of multiple myeloma.

Management and Treatment:

Upon a confirmed diagnosis, multiple myeloma management involves a multidisciplinary approach tailored to the individual's specific case:

  • Chemotherapy: Primary Treatment: Chemotherapy, using drugs like bortezomib, lenalidomide, and dexamethasone, is often employed to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells.

  • Stem Cell Transplantation: High-Dose Chemotherapy: In some cases, high-dose chemotherapy is followed by stem cell transplantation to help the bone marrow recover.

  • Targeted Therapies: Proteasome Inhibitors and Immunomodulatory Drugs: Medications that target specific abnormalities in cancer cells, helping to control their growth.

  • Immunotherapy: Enhancing Immune Response: Immunotherapies, such as monoclonal antibodies, boost the body's immune system to target and destroy myeloma cells.

  • Radiation Therapy: Pain Management and Tumor Reduction: Targeted radiation may be used to alleviate bone pain and reduce the size of tumors.


The prognosis for multiple myeloma varies depending on various factors, including the stage at diagnosis, overall health of the patient, and response to treatment. Advances in research and treatment options continue to improve outcomes, and early detection remains crucial for a more favorable prognosis. Regular follow-up appointments with healthcare professionals are essential for monitoring the disease's progression and adjusting treatment plans as needed.


Navigating the complexities of multiple myeloma involves not only understanding its causes, symptoms, and diagnostic procedures but also embracing evolving treatment strategies and considering prognosis. A holistic approach that combines early detection, personalized treatment plans, and ongoing research efforts remains paramount. For individuals facing multiple myeloma, consulting with a hematologist or oncologist is crucial to receiving comprehensive care and support throughout their journey.

About the Author

In 1984, Dr. Craig Smith founded Lifesource. As a coach, he's worked with world-class athletes and guided thousands towards successful weight loss. Driven by a desire to elevate his understanding of the human body, he returned to the rigors of medical school in his 50s, achieving his goal of becoming a physician at 56. Now in his 60s, Dr. Smith leads by personal example, continuing to inspire, educate and empower individuals from all walks of life to achieve their health and fitness goals. If you wish to train and diet online with Dr. Smith, hear his message and schedule a 45-minute consultation on the New You page.