Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer because it forms in plasma cells, a kind of white blood cell that creates antibodies.

Multiple myeloma, sometimes called myeloma, is uncommon. About 1 in 132 people in the United States has a lifetime risk of developing multiple myeloma (less than 1%).

The overproduction of plasma cells in people with myeloma and abnormal proteins created by these cells can cause many different problems in your body. Yet symptoms often don’t arise in the early stages.

Multiple myeloma is known as smoldering or indolent myeloma when it doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms, yet you have elevated levels of plasma cells.

Read on to learn more about why multiple myeloma is considered a blood cancer and how it affects your body.

Multiple myeloma is considered a blood cancer because it starts in a type of blood cell called plasma cells. These cells form in the bone marrow and produce antibodies. Antibodies are proteins that attach to foreign molecules and tell other immune cells to attack them.

Myeloma leads to the overproduction of abnormal plasma cells that can crowd out healthy blood cells. These cells produce an abnormal antibody called monoclonal protein or M-protein that can damage your kidneys.

Indolent myeloma is considered a precancerous condition. It doesn’t cause symptoms but is characterized by elevated plasma cell and M-protein levels.

About half of people with indolent myeloma develop multiple myeloma within 5 years.

Typical symptoms of multiple myeloma fall under the acronym CRAB: calcium elevation, renal failure, anemia, and bone pain.

Calcium elevation

Renal failure (kidney failure)

Anemia (low red blood cell count)

Bone pain

Indolent myeloma doesn’t cause symptoms.

Researchers don’t know exactly what causes multiple myeloma, but it develops when plasma cells grow out of control and produce abnormal proteins.

Experts suspect that a combination of genetic and environmental factors play a role in its development.

Indolent myeloma and another precancerous condition called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) can turn into multiple myeloma.

A bone marrow biopsy is usually needed to confirm a multiple myeloma diagnosis. A biopsy involves taking a small tissue sample with a needle for lab analysis. The sample is often taken from your pelvic bone.

Doctors use other tests to support the diagnosis, such as:

Indolent myeloma is often detected during a blood test for an unrelated condition.

Learn more about myeloma diagnosis.

According to the National Cancer Institute, eight types of standard therapy are used to treat multiple myeloma. Treatment options include:

Supportive treatments are also given to target specific symptoms.

Indolent myeloma is usually treated with watchful waiting or a medication called lenalidomide, which may be combined with dexamethasone.

Read more about multiple myeloma treatments.

About 1 in 100 people with MGUS develop multiple myeloma each year. The risk is about 1 in 10 for people with indolent myeloma in the first 5 years after diagnosis, 3% in the next 5 years, and 1.5% after.

Other risk factors for myeloma in the United States include:

  • being assigned male at birth
  • being over the age of 60, with most cases over the age of 70
  • African American ethnicity
  • a family history of myeloma or MGUS

According to the American Cancer Society, the overall 5-year survival rate for people with multiple myeloma in the United States is 55%. This means that 55% of people with the cancer live at least 5 years.

While few people are diagnosed in the early stages, these people have a 78% chance of surviving at least 5 years.

The survival rate tends to be higher in younger people and those with better overall health.

Learn more about the outlook for multiple myeloma.

Here are some questions people have about myeloma.

What’s the difference between myeloma and lymphoma?

Myeloma starts in a type of white blood cell called plasma cells. Lymphoma starts in a category of white blood cells called lymphocytes, which are made up of T cells and B cells.

Can you have lymphoma and myeloma at the same time?

Cases of coexisting lymphoma and myeloma have been reported. However, it’s very rare to have both.

Can children get multiple myeloma?

Myeloma primarily develops in older adults but can, rarely, develop in children. For example, in a 2017 case study, researchers reported a case of myeloma in an 8-year-old child with HIV.

Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer. People in the United States have less than a 1% chance of developing multiple myeloma in their lifetimes. It develops when plasma cells replicate uncontrollably.

Doctors don’t know why myeloma develops in some people and not others, but more than half of people live longer than 5 years with proper treatment. Your doctor can help you figure out the best treatment options for you.