Blood has many important functions in your body, including producing the cells that power your immune system. In fact, nearly half (about 45 percent) of your blood consists of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Think of your white blood cells as soldiers who fight for your health, if needed. During an infection, the body transforms a particular type of white blood cell known as a B cell into a plasma cell, which creates antibodies to fight it. When these plasma cells start growing in an uncontrolled way, it may lead to myeloma, or multiple myeloma, which is cancer of the plasma cells.
Myeloma is the rarest type of blood cancer, with 30,000 new cases diagnosed each year. In total, myeloma accounts for about 2 percent of all cancers diagnosed, and about 10 percent of all blood cancers. Myeloma is more common in men than in women, tends to arise in older adults (the average age of diagnosis is 65) and is nearly twice as common in African Americans as in the Caucasian population.
“Myeloma is generally considered an acquired, not a hereditary condition,” says Natalia Neparideza, MD, a Yale Medicine hematologist and associate professor of medicine (medical oncology) at Yale School of Medicine. “Luckily, over the course of the last two decades, several new, very effective treatments have been developed for myeloma. Thanks to these new treatments, survival in multiple myeloma has greatly improved, often allowing people diagnosed with myeloma to live for many years.”