What is multiple myeloma?

Multiple myeloma is the second-most common type of blood cancer. It occurs most often in adults older than 65.

In multiple myeloma, cancerous cells form in the bone marrow. This type of cancer involves the white blood cells known as plasma B cells. Plasma B cells make the antibodies that help your body fight infection.

When abnormal plasma B cells multiply uncontrollably, they can form tumors in many different bones. The cancerous cells:

  • Create high levels of protein that can damage the kidneys

  • Prevent your body from fighting infection

  • Slow production of healthy blood cells

  • Weaken the bones

Meet our team

Blood cancer specialists

At the UW Carbone Cancer Center, we know cancer can affect all parts of your life. So, we’ve put together a team of specialists to help you during each stage of your cancer journey.

Your team includes specialized doctors who focus on your physical well-being. But we also have experts who focus on other areas, such as your mental health, financial needs and family concerns. They make sure the care you receive will be just right for you and your disease.

Team members might include:

  • Advanced practice providers

  • Health psychologists

  • Hematologic nurses

  • Hematologic oncologists

  • Medical oncologists

  • Nutritionists

  • Occupational therapists

  • Oncology pharmacists

  • Orthopedic surgeons

  • Pain management specialists

  • Pathologists

  • Physical therapists

  • Psychologists

  • Radiation oncologist

  • Social workers

We strive to provide cancer treatments that improve your quality of life.

Our providers

Symptoms and diagnosis

Multiple myeloma symptoms

Some people diagnosed with multiple myeloma don’t feel symptoms right away. This is called smoldering multiple myeloma.

Early signs of multiple myeloma can include:

  • Fatigue

  • Bone pain in the back or ribs

As multiple myeloma progresses, common symptoms include:

  • Broken bones

  • Frequent infections

  • Headache

  • High blood calcium levels (hypercalcemia)

  • Kidney problems

  • Low blood counts (anemia, leukopenia, thrombocytopenia)

  • Muscle weakness

  • Numbness in the legs

Making a diagnosis

Sometimes multiple myeloma is found during a blood test or urine test for another condition even before symptoms occur. So, when you experience symptoms, our experts use a variety of tests to make an accurate diagnosis. Tests can include blood and urine tests, bone marrow biopsy and imaging tests to check for bone damage (lesions).

Treatment and research

Treatment options for multiple myeloma

The stage of your cancer determines the best treatment plan for your multiple myeloma.

At UW Health, we work to reduce your symptoms. Unfortunately, there is no cure for multiple myeloma, but we can help you manage your condition and live a full life.

Your treatments might include:

This treatment uses powerful drugs to attack cancerous cells. The drugs travel throughout the body with the goal of killing any diseased cells.

Learn more

Our doctors use steroid medicines (known as corticosteroids) to control inflammation and regulate your immune system.

Our specialists use the most advanced high-energy rays and other forms of precise radiation to kill cancer cells.

Learn more

This procedure involves replacing unhealthy lymphocytes (white blood cells) with healthy stem cells. You first receive high doses of chemotherapy to kill the cancerous cells. Then doctors introduce the new healthy cells. The cells may come from your own body or from someone else’s. They can also come from umbilical cord blood.

Learn more

Special medicines attack weak spots on your cancer cells. These drugs can kill cancer cells on their own or in combination with chemotherapy.

In some cases, doctors use surgery to remove cancerous tissue from your body. Surgery can also strengthen and support bones weakened by the cancer cells. If multiple myeloma affects your spine, we can use surgery to relieve pressure on the spinal cord caused by damaged vertebrae.

The UW Carbone Cancer Center is a national research center for improving cancer care. Our experts may recommend you take part in a clinical trial to access the most advanced and innovative treatments. We lead many innovative clinical trials for multiple myeloma, including CAR T-cell therapy – a way to supercharge your body’s immune cells.

Find a clinical trial


Care close to home

The UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center provides care throughout Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Not all cancers are treated at every location; however, we will make every effort to connect you with care at a location convenient to you.

Patient and support services

Information and support

At UW Health, our blood cancer support group serves anyone with multiple myeloma and their friends and family.

You can learn more about multiple myeloma here: