Myeloma, also known as multiple myeloma, refers to cancer which develops in the bone marrow (the spongy tissue found inside your bones).

Last modified: March 9, 2022

Quick facts about myeloma Quick facts

  • Myeloma develops in plasma cells, a type of white blood cell found within the bone marrow
  • Although myeloma is found in the bone marrow, it is classified as a type of blood cancer
  • Myeloma is most commonly diagnosed in men over the age of 60

Types of myeloma Types of myeloma

The most common types of myeloma include:

Solitary plasmacytoma

This is an early-stage myeloma which develops from plasma cells in a single area, such as in a bone.

Smouldering (asymptomatic) myeloma

This type of myeloma is considered early-stage and typically does not cause symptoms. However, most smouldering myeloma cases will go on to become active myeloma.

Active (symptomatic) myeloma

Myeloma is classified as active when it begins causing symptoms. Characteristics of active myeloma include having m-protein in your blood or urine, plasma cells that make up at least 10% of the blood cells found in your bone marrow and myeloma tumours in your bone or soft tissue.

Extramedullary plasmacytoma

Extramedullary plasmacytomas develop in soft tissue outside the bone marrow. These tumours are commonly found in the upper respiratory tract, however they may also occur in the gastrointestinal tract, breast or brain.

Light chain myeloma

Light chain myelomas make up 15 to 20 percent of myeloma cases and are commonly found in the kidneys. This type of myeloma is smaller and is commonly detected through urine tests.

Signs and symptoms of myeloma Signs and symptoms

As signs and symptoms for myeloma can be similar to other common conditions, it’s important to see your GP or healthcare professional if you experience any of the symptoms below. Discussing anything concerning with your doctor as soon as possible can help give you peace of mind and offer the best chance of successful treatment if you receive a myeloma diagnosis.

Myeloma can be difficult to detect as certain types of myeloma may not cause any symptoms. However, symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue and tiredness as a result of low iron (anaemia)

  • Fever

  • Chronic infection

  • Increased frequency of fractures or broken bones

  • Pain in the bones, often felt in the back and rib area

  • Bruising and bleeding that occurs easily

Stages of myeloma Stages

The Revised International Staging System (R-ISS) is used to stage myeloma, and it helps doctors understand what your cancer looks like. This staging system uses various blood tests to measure the following features:

  • Chromosomal changes – Cytogenic testing can check for chromosomal changes that may affect abnormal genes, such as missing pieces of chromosome 17, translocation (exchange of pieces of material) between chromosomes 4 and 14, as well as translocation between chromosomes 14 and 16
  • Lactic dehydrogenase (LDH) – High levels of LDH, an enzyme involved in cell metabolism, in the blood can be a sign that your myeloma is more advanced
  • Albumin – Lower levels of albumin, a protein found in the blood, may be seen in myeloma
  • Beta-2-microglobulin (B2M) – Higher levels of the protein beta-2-microglobulin, which is made by myeloma cells, are associated with poorer prognosis for myeloma patients

The R-ISS information, along with other tests, helps determine the stage of your myeloma using the guidelines below:

Stage I

Serum B2M is less than 3.5 mg/L, albumin is at least 3.5 g/L, LDH are normal and cytogenetics are not considered high risk.

Stage II

Levels will fall between stages I and III, but no other guidelines are set.

Stage III

Serum B2M is at least 5.5 mg/L. Additionally, either LDH levels will be high or cytogenetics will be high risk.

Treatment for myeloma cancer

There are many different types of treatment for myeloma. Your treatment will depend on you and your cancer.

Frequently asked questions about myeloma FAQs

Is myeloma hereditary?

Myeloma is not genetic (passed on from a parent to a child) and it is relatively rare for more than one family member to have myeloma. However, having a first degree relative with myeloma gives you a slightly increased risk of developing myeloma.

What causes myeloma?

The cause of myeloma is not fully known, however there are some factors which contribute to the risk of myeloma developing, including: 

  • Exposure to high levels of radiation and certain chemicals such as dioxins
  • Contracting HIV
How common is myeloma?

In 2021, it’s estimated that nearly 2 500 people will be diagnosed with myeloma. It is the least common of all blood cancers (including lymphoma and leukaemia), making up 15% of all blood cancer diagnoses.

What are the risk factors for myeloma?

Risk factors that have been associated with developing myeloma include:

  • Age – Myeloma is most common in people over the age of 60
  • Gender – There is a higher rate of myeloma in men compared to women
  • Weight – Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing multiple myeloma
  • Exposure – You have an increased risk of developing myeloma if you are exposed to certain chemicals (including dioxins), radiation or certain viruses (including HIV)
How is myeloma diagnosed?

Your doctor may refer to the CRAB or SLiM-CRAB criteria to help determine if you may have myeloma. These criteria include: 

CRAB criteria

  • C: Elevated calcium levels
  • R: Renal (kidney) damage
  • A: Anaemia 
  • B: Bone pain and damage

SLiM criteria

  • S: Plasma cells in the bone marrow are considered 60% abnormal or greater
  • Li: High level of free light chains are found in the blood
  • M: Bone lesions are found on the MRI scan 


For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Cancer Council NSW. (n.d). Staging and prognosis for myeloma. Retrieved 21 December 2021 from
  2. Cancer Council. (September 2020). Myeloma. Retrieved on 21 December 2021 from
  3. Cancer Australia, Australian Government. (2018). What are the symptoms of myeloma? Retrieved on 2nd April from
  4. American Cancer Society. (2018). Risk factors for multiple myeloma. Retrieved on 11th April 2019 from
  5. American Cancer Society. (2018). Multiple Myeloma Stages. Retrieved on 11th April 2019 from
  6. American Cancer Society. (2018). Tests to find multiple myeloma. Retrieved on 11th April 2019 from
  7. Leukaemia Foundation. (2018) Myeloma – A guide for patients and families. Retrieved on 11th April 2019 from
  8. American Cancer Society. (2018). Treatment options for multiple myeloma, by stage. Retrieved on 11th April 2019 from
  9. Myeloma UK. (n.d). Smouldering Myeloma. Retrieved on 11th April 2019 from
  10. Canadian Cancer Society. (2014). Types of multiple myeloma. Retrieved on the 11th April 2019 from 
View all


Contact us
Become a patient