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Home > Health Library > Plasma Cell Neoplasms (Including Multiple Myeloma) Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI]
This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http://cancer.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.
Plasma cell neoplasms are diseases in which the body makes too many plasma cells.
Plasma cells develop from B lymphocytes (B cells), a type of white blood cell that is made in the bone marrow. Normally, when bacteria or viruses enter the body, some of the B cells will change into plasma cells. The plasma cells make antibodies to fight bacteria and viruses, to stop infection and disease.Multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma cells are abnormal plasma cells (a type of white blood cell) that build up in the bone marrow and form tumors in many bones of the body. Normal plasma cells make antibodies to help the body fight infection and disease. As the number of multiple myeloma cells increases, more antibodies are made. This can cause the blood to thicken and keep the bone marrow from making enough healthy blood cells. Multiple myeloma cells also damage and weaken the bone.
Plasma cell neoplasms are diseases in which abnormal plasma cells or myeloma cells form tumors in the bones or soft tissues of the body. The plasma cells also make an antibody protein, called M protein, that is not needed by the body and does not help fight infection. These antibody proteins build up in the bone marrow and can cause the blood to thicken or can damage the kidneys.
Plasma cell neoplasms can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).
Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) is not cancer but can become cancer. The following types of plasma cell neoplasms are cancer:
There are several types of plasma cell neoplasms.
Plasma cell neoplasms include the following:
Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS)
In this type of plasma cell neoplasm, less than 10% of the bone marrow is made up of abnormal plasma cells and there is no cancer. The abnormal plasma cells make M protein, which is sometimes found during a routine blood or urine test. In most patients, the amount of M protein stays the same and there are no signs, symptoms, or health problems.
In some patients, MGUS may later become a more serious condition, such as amyloidosis, or cause problems with the kidneys, heart, or nerves. MGUS can also become cancer, such as multiple myeloma, lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma, or chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
In this type of plasma cell neoplasm, the abnormal plasma cells (myeloma cells) are in one place and form one tumor, called a plasmacytoma. Sometimes plasmacytoma can be cured. There are two types of plasmacytoma.
Signs and symptoms depend on where the tumor is.
In multiple myeloma, abnormal plasma cells (myeloma cells) build up in the bone marrow and form tumors in many bones of the body. These tumors may keep the bone marrow from making enough healthy blood cells. Normally, the bone marrow makes stem cells (immature cells) that become three types of mature blood cells:
As the number of myeloma cells increases, fewer red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are made. The myeloma cells also damage and weaken the bone.
Sometimes multiple myeloma does not cause any signs or symptoms. This is called smoldering multiple myeloma. It may be found when a blood or urine test is done for another condition. Signs and symptoms may be caused by multiple myeloma or other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
A tumor can damage the bone and cause hypercalcemia (too much calcium in the blood). This can affect many organs in the body, including the kidneys, nerves, heart, muscles, and digestive tract, and cause serious health problems.
Hypercalcemia may cause the following signs and symptoms:
Multiple myeloma and other plasma cell neoplasms may cause a condition called amyloidosis.
In rare cases, multiple myeloma can cause peripheral nerves (nerves that are not in the brain or spinal cord) and organs to fail. This may be caused by a condition called amyloidosis. Antibody proteins build up and stick together in peripheral nerves and organs, such as the kidney and heart. This can cause the nerves and organs to become stiff and unable to work the way they should.
Amyloidosis may cause the following signs and symptoms:
Age can affect the risk of plasma cell neoplasms.
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk.
Plasma cell neoplasms are most common in people who are middle aged or older. For multiple myeloma and plasmacytoma, other risk factors include the following:
Tests that examine the blood, bone marrow, and urine are used to diagnose multiple myeloma and other plasma cell neoplasms.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
The prognosis depends on the following:
Treatment options depend on the following:
There are no standard staging systems for monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), macroglobulinemia, and plasmacytoma.
After multiple myeloma has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out the amount of cancer in the body.
The process used to find out the amount of cancer in the body is called staging. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment. The following tests and procedures may be used in the staging process:
The stage of multiple myeloma is based on the levels of beta-2-microglobulin and albumin in the blood.
Beta-2-microglobulin and albumin are found in the blood. Beta-2-microglobulin is a protein found on plasma cells. Albumin makes up the biggest part of the blood plasma. It keeps fluid from leaking out of blood vessels. It also brings nutrients to tissues, and carries hormones, vitamins, drugs, and other substances, such as calcium, all through the body. In the blood of patients with multiple myeloma, the amount of beta-2-microglobulin is increased and the amount of albumin is decreased.
The following stages are used for multiple myeloma:
Stage I multiple myeloma
In stage I multiple myeloma, the blood levels are as follows:
Stage II multiple myeloma
In stage II multiple myeloma, the blood levels are in between the levels for stage I and stage III.
Stage III multiple myeloma
In stage III multiple myeloma, the blood level of beta-2-microglobulin is 5.5 mg/L or higher and the patient also has one of the following:
Plasma cell neoplasms are called refractory when the number of plasma cells keeps going up even though treatment is given.
There are different types of treatment for patients with plasma cell neoplasms.
Different types of treatments are available for patients with plasma cell neoplasms. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Eight types of treatment are used:
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
See Drugs Approved for Multiple Myeloma and Other Plasma Cell Neoplasms for more information.
Other drug therapy
Corticosteroids are steroids that have antitumor effects in multiple myeloma.
Targeted therapy is a treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells. Several types of targeted therapy may be used to treat multiple myeloma and other plasma cell neoplasms.
Proteasome inhibitor therapy is a cancer treatment that blocks the action of proteasomes in cancer cells. A proteasome is a protein that removes other proteins no longer needed by the cell. When the proteins are not removed from the cell, they build up and may cause the cancer cell to die. Bortezomib, carfilzomib, and ixazomib are proteasome inhibitors used in the treatment of multiple myeloma and other plasma cell neoplasms.
Monoclonal antibody therapy is a cancer treatment that uses antibodies made in the laboratory, from a single type of immune system cell. These antibodies can identify substances on cancer cells or normal substances that may help cancer cells grow. The antibodies attach to the substances and kill the cancer cells, block their growth, or keep them from spreading. Monoclonal antibodies are given by infusion. They may be used alone or to carry drugs, toxins, or radioactive material directly to cancer cells. Daratumumab and elotuzumab are monoclonal antibodies used in the treatment of multiple myeloma and other plasma cell neoplasms.
Histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor therapy is a type of targeted therapy that blocks enzymes needed for cell division and may stop the growth of cancer cells. Panobinostat is an HDAC inhibitor used in the treatment of multiple myeloma and other plasma cell neoplasms.
High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant
High doses of chemotherapy are given to kill cancer cells. Healthy cells, including blood -forming cells, are also destroyed by the cancer treatment. Stem cell transplant is a treatment to replace the blood-forming cells. Stem cells (immature blood cells) are removed from the blood or bone marrow of the patient (autologous) or a donor (allogeneic) and are frozen and stored. After the patient completes chemotherapy, the stored stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient through an infusion. These reinfused stem cells grow into (and restore) the body's blood cells. Stem cell transplant. (Step 1): Blood is taken from a vein in the arm of the donor. The patient or another person may be the donor. The blood flows through a machine that removes the stem cells. Then the blood is returned to the donor through a vein in the other arm. (Step 2): The patient receives chemotherapy to kill blood-forming cells. The patient may receive radiation therapy (not shown). (Step 3): The patient receives stem cells through a catheter placed into a blood vessel in the chest.
Biologic therapy is a treatment that uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy or immunotherapy.
Immunomodulators are a type of biologic therapy. Thalidomide, lenalidomide, and pomalidomide are immunomodulators used to treat multiple myeloma and other plasma cell neoplasms.
Interferon is a type of biologic therapy. It affects the division of cancer cells and can slow tumor growth.
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy:
The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. External radiation therapy is used to treat plasma cell neoplasms.
Surgery to remove the tumor may be done. After the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.
Watchful waiting is closely monitoring a patient's condition without giving any treatment until signs or symptoms appear or change.
New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
New combinations of therapies
Clinical trials are studying different combinations of biologic therapy, chemotherapy, steroid therapy, and drugs. New treatment regimens using thalidomide or lenalidomide are also being studied.
Treatment for plasma cell neoplasms may cause side effects.
For information about side effects caused by treatment for cancer, see our Side Effects page.
Supportive care is given to lessen the problems caused by the disease or its treatment.
This therapy controls problems or side effects caused by the disease or its treatment, and improves quality of life. Supportive care is given to treat problems caused by multiple myeloma and other plasma cell neoplasms.
Supportive care may include the following:
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. Information about clinical trials supported by NCI can be found on NCI's clinical trials search webpage. Clinical trials supported by other organizations can be found on the ClinicalTrials.gov website.
Follow-up tests may be needed.
Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.
Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.
For information about the treatments listed below, see the Treatment Option Overview section.
Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance
Treatment of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) is usually watchful waiting. Regular blood tests to check the level of M protein in the blood and physical exams to check for signs or symptoms of cancer will be done.
Use our clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are accepting patients. You can search for trials based on the type of cancer, the age of the patient, and where the trials are being done. General information about clinical trials is also available.
Isolated Plasmacytoma of Bone
Treatment of isolated plasmacytoma of bone is usually radiation therapy to the bone lesion.
Treatment of extramedullary plasmacytoma may include the following:
Patients without signs or symptoms may not need treatment. When signs or symptoms appear, the treatment of multiple myeloma may be done in phases:
Refractory Multiple Myeloma
Treatment of refractory multiple myeloma may include the following:
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about multiple myeloma and other plasma cell neoplasms, see the following:
For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:
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This PDQ cancer information summary has current information about treatment of plasma cell neoplasms (including multiple myeloma). It is meant to inform and help patients, families, and caregivers. It does not give formal guidelines or recommendations for making decisions about health care.
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PDQ® Adult Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Plasma Cell Neoplasms (Including Multiple Myeloma) Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/myeloma/patient/myeloma-treatment-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>. [PMID: 26389437]
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Last Revised: 2019-11-08
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