There are several different types of multiple myeloma, a condition that originates within the bone marrow and affects the plasma cells that form the immune system. The main types of plasma cells are lymphocytes, T cells and B cells, all of which play an important role in helping the body fight infection. When plasma cells become cancerous, they grow and divide at a very rapid pace. The resulting accumulation of unhealthy plasma cells can create high levels of proteins in the blood, which can lead to negative health effects, such as an impaired immune system. The excess cells can also form tumors (plasmacytomas) in the bones and other tissues. If more than one plasmacytoma develops, the condition is known as multiple myeloma.
Multiple myeloma can be referred to as either "smoldering" or "active." Smoldering multiple myeloma is an early form of myeloma that is asymptomatic and not causing problems, as opposed to active myeloma, which is symptomatic and causing issues like low blood counts and anemia, calcium and bone problems, infections and kidney damage or failure.
Five types of multiple myeloma based on immunoglobulins
Multiple myeloma is classified based on the varieties of antibodies (immunoglobulins) produced by the cancerous cells. Each immunoglobulin is made up of two long (heavy) protein chains and two short (light) protein chains. The five types of multiple myeloma are based on the categories of heavy chains and described by Greek letters, which are:
- Gamma (IgG)
- Alpha (IgA)
- Mu (IgM)
- Epsilon (IgE)
- Delta (IgD)
Each of these proteins performs a different function in the body and their respective levels can be measured through a blood test called electrophoresis. It is important for a physician to understand the proteins involved in a patient’s unique condition in order to determine the optimal course of treatment. While some myeloma-related conditions require treatment, others do not. Nevertheless, all types of multiple myeloma should be monitored regularly.
At Moffitt Cancer Center, the multispecialty team that administers our Malignant Hematology Program has extensive experience in treating myeloma. After using state-of-the-art testing methods to accurately diagnose and categorize a patient’s condition, these cancer experts will collaboratively recommend an individualized treatment plan and continually monitor the patient’s progress.
Medically reviewed by David Sallman, MD, Malignant Hematology.