Multiple Myeloma

Hematologic malignancies are cancers of the bone marrow, lymph nodes and spleen – organs responsible for the production of blood cells. People with hematologic malignancies may have an increased or decreased number of normal blood cells, and possibly a large quantity of abnormal cells. Specialists at Indiana University Health Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center care for many people with the three most common hematologic malignancies: leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the marrow and invades the bone itself. In multiple myeloma, cells grow out of control in the bone marrow and form tumors in the areas of solid bone. The growth of these bone tumors makes causes weakness of the bone and the abnormal cells growing in the marrow make it harder for the bone marrow to make healthy blood cells and platelets. Symptoms of multiple myeloma include:

  • Bone problems. Healthy bones are constantly replenishing themselves. Multiple myeloma attacks bones by disrupting the formation of new bone and removing existing bone. The result is brittle bones that fracture easily.
  • Anemia. As cancerous cells replace healthy red blood cells, you can become anemic, lacking enough red cells to carry sufficient oxygen through the body.
  • Kidney problems. Multiple myeloma can also damage the kidneys, even causing them to fail.

Multiple Myeloma Diagnosis

The specialized, multidisciplinary team at IU Health Melvin and Bren Cancer Center has extensive experience with blood cancers. The department also contains a full laboratory that delivers test results quickly. Because of these factors it is possible to receive a diagnosis and treatment plan in one day.

Our hematology and blood cancer specialists use the following diagnostic tools:

  • Blood testing. Checking various blood cell counts for cancerous cells or changes in blood cell chromosomes.
  • Bone marrow and fine needle aspiration biopsy. Removing a small piece of bone and bone marrow through a needle inserted into the hipbone or breastbone, or into a lymph node.
  • Radiographic studies such as X-rays, CT scans and PET scan. Taking internal pictures of the body and highlighting areas of tumor infiltration.
  • Flow cytometry. Measuring the number of cells in a sample and determining certain cell characteristics such as size, shape and the presence of tumor markers.

Back to top

Multiple Myeloma Treatment

Physicians in the hematology and blood cancer department work from the beginning to earn your trust and empower you to lead the fight against your disease. We tell you all your treatment options and work together with you and your family to achieve the best outcome. From diagnosis through follow-up treatment, you can expect the team of physicians and nurses to support you every step of the way.

Treatment of blood cancers at IU Health Simon Cancer Center includes the full range of treatment options available. In cases of slow-growing cancers, this may be a “watch and wait” approach. With faster cancers, treatment may begin almost immediately, with chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy or a combination of these types of treatments. Options available include:

  • Chemotherapy. Destroys cancer cells with drugs. These drugs may be those already in common use, or those being tested in clinical trials.
  • Surgery. Removes the cancer and sometimes surrounding healthy tissue and corrects any fractures.
  • Radiotherapy. Used to destroy cancer cells and to shrink tumors.
  • Immunotherapy. Uses drugs to stimulate your body’s immune system to fight cancer.
  • Monoclonal antibodies. Laboratory-produced substances that can locate and bind to cancer cells wherever they are in the body. They are used to deliver drugs, toxins or radioactive material directly to a tumor.
  • Stem Cell transplantation. Replaces bone marrow that has been destroyed by treatment with high doses of drugs or radiation in the process of destroying tumor cells. Transplant material may be your own marrow (harvested before other treatment) or that of a donor. (Link to Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant page)

Supportive care is also available through the CompleteLife Program whose staff compassionately support and educate you, tending to emotional, mental, social and spiritual needs.

Back to top

Multiple Myeloma Specialists

Rafat Abonour, M.D.
Jose M. Azar, M.D.
Larry D. Cripe, M.D.
Sherif Farag, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., F.R.A.C.P, F.R.C.P.A
Michael J. Robertson, M.D.
G. David Roodman, M.D., Ph.D.
Jennifer E. Schwartz, M.D.
Rebecca Silbermann, M.D.
Attaya Suvannasankha, M.D.

Back to top

Multiple Myeloma Research

The specialists at IU Health Simon Cancer Center are involved in research and education and thus provide people with blood cancers a level of expertise not found at most hospitals. Our specialists and staff diagnose and treat hundreds of people with blood cancers each year.

Specialists at the IU Health Simon Cancer Center are involved in groundbreaking research at the national level. Specific topics include:

  • Understanding the mechanism that makes abnormal white blood cells so long-lived, so that this mechanism can be attacked, thus causing the abnormal cells to die.
  • Developing drugs that attack only cancerous cells, and not normal cells.
  • Developing drugs to activate the immune system to attack cancerous cells on its own.

More information about cancer research can be found on the Indiana University School of Medicine website

Clinical Trials

Research conducted at the IU Health Simon Cancer Center includes clinical trials of various treatments that may provide even better outcomes than current standard treatments of blood cancers. Trials currently being conducted include:

  • Non-chemotherapy drugs that “trick” cancer cells into dying.
  • Treatments that attach specially designed, small molecules directly to damaged cells to destroy them.
  • Treatments that address the process by which cells become cancerous, with the intent to prevent cancer from developing or progressing.

Back to top