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What is Smoldering Myeloma?

By Rhonda Rivera
Updated May 17, 2024
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Smoldering myeloma is a slow-growing blood cancer that can affect plasma cells, which are the white blood cells that produce antibodies. People diagnosed with this type of myeloma usually have very few or no symptoms, and they are typically closely monitored for signs that the cancer is growing. If the disease progresses, it is called multiple myeloma or a variant of that term, and the word “smoldering” is dropped because the disease is no longer suppressed. A routine blood test is often the first step in diagnosing smoldering myeloma. Other names for this disease are Kahler’s disease and plasma cell myeloma.

When the disease progresses, it can disrupt normal blood cell production, cause bone lesions, and lead to an immune deficiency. People who develop multiple myeloma and seek modern treatment normally live from three to seven years. There is no cure for smoldering or multiple myeloma, but certain treatments can sometimes put the disease into remission and help it maintain that status. The disease is somewhat rare and is more commonly found in men than women. Certain ethnicities are also more prone to developing smoldering myeloma.

Diagnosing this disease may be difficult due to its lack of symptoms and rarity. Often, the disease is suspected and actively looked for after an unrelated blood or urine test shows an abnormality. With blood and urine tests, a doctor can look for elevated levels of certain cells and proteins, which is a the primary indicator of the disease.

The treatments for this condition vary, depending on the patient. Sometimes, a doctor may believe it best not to treat the disease, though he or she will usually help the patient deal with pain or other uncommon signs of this health problem. Radiation therapy, medications to prevent bone loss, or a stem cell transplantation combined with chemotherapy are some of the treatments used for this type of cancer.

It is believed that all cases of this kind of myeloma eventually progress into the active disease, multiple myeloma. This development can take anywhere from months to more than half a decade, depending on how severe the disease is. Researchers have developed a way to narrow down how long a case of smoldering myeloma will take to progress, but it is not possible to give an exact date. Proper treatment can usually slow the disease down, whether it is inactive or active, sometimes significantly increasing the affected person’s lifespan.

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Discussion Comments
By anon350022 — On Oct 01, 2013

Here is the problem: There is no approved treatment for "smoldering myeloma." The only treatments available are through clinical trials. It is an aggressive approach to try to reach remission before it progresses to multiple myeloma and degrades the bones and organs.

The current (old) thought process is to not subject a patient with smoldering myeloma to the side effects of chemo (or radiation) while they are living an otherwise undisturbed life. I disagree with this thought process and will be starting my clinical trial next month.

By ysmina — On Feb 04, 2011

Did you know that myeloma is actually in the same category as leukemia and lymphoma? I recently read that; I was really surprised because these all seem like such disparate conditions to me. But it's true -- all three are blood cancers; leukemia is found in both blood and bone marrow and lymphoma is found in the lymph nodes, as its name suggests.

By ddljohn — On Feb 03, 2011

So correct me if I'm wrong, but the way I read this is that the smoldering myeloma prognosis really depends on how early you catch it, right? I mean, it's got to be easier to treat if you catch it before it becomes a full blown multiple myeloma, right? Anybody have more information about this?

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