Health Check A-Z
Myeloma, also known as multiple myeloma, is a type of bone marrow cancer. The cancer affects the plasma cells inside the bone marrow, which are an important part of the immune system.
Bone marrow is the soft material found at the centre of the bones of the body.
Myeloma doesn't usually exist as a lump or tumour. Instead, the myeloma cells divide and expand within the bone marrow.
It typically affects many places in the body where bone marrow exists, which is why it's called multiple myeloma. This includes the bones of the spine, the skull, the pelvis, the rib cage and the areas around the shoulders and hips.
Multiple myeloma may not cause any symptoms in its early stages. It may only be suspected or diagnosed after a routine blood or urine test.
However, it will eventually cause a wide range of symptoms and complications that may include bone pain and bone fractures. See Multiple myeloma - symptoms for a full list of the possible symptoms.
Who is affected
It's not known exactly what causes the plasma cells inside the bone marrow to become cancerous.
Studies have suggested that certain factors may increase your chance of developing myeloma, such as having a close relative with the condition, being obese and having a diet low in fish and green vegetables. See Multiple myeloma - causes for a full list of risk factors.
Multiple myeloma mostly affects people aged over 60. The average age of people who are diagnosed is 70.
For reasons that are unclear, rates of myeloma are twice as high in black people than in white people.
Every year in the UK, it's estimated that multiple myeloma affects 60-70 in every million people.
Although there's no cure for myeloma, treatment can control the progression of the cancer for several years or, in some cases, many years. Treatments include chemotherapy and bone marrow transplantation.
New treatments over the last 10 years have approximately doubled survival rates and improved the quality of life for myeloma patients significantly. For more information, see Multiple myeloma - treatment.