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 the Indiana University Health Melvin & Bren Simon Cancer Center care for 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 the bone tumors weakens the bone, and the abnormal cells growing in the marrow restrict it from making healthy blood cells and platelets. Symptoms of multiple myeloma include:

  • Bone problems. Healthy bones constantly replenish themselves. Multiple myeloma attacks bones by disrupting new bone growth 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. This means you lack enough red cells to carry sufficient oxygen through the body.
  • Kidney problems. Multiple myeloma can also damage the kidneys, even causing them to fail.

The IU Health Melvin & Bren Simon Cancer Center has a multidisciplinary team of doctors with extensive experience in blood cancers, plus a full laboratory that delivers test results quickly. These resources make it possible to get a diagnosis and treatment plan in one day.

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

  • Blood testing. Checks various blood cell counts for cancerous cells or changes in blood cell chromosomes.
  • Bone marrow and fine needle aspiration biopsy. Removes a small piece of bone and bone marrow through a needle inserted into the hipbone, breastbone or a lymph node.
  • Radiographic studies such as X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans and positron emission tomography (PET) scans. These studies take internal pictures of the body, highlighting areas of tumor infiltration.
  • Flow cytometry. Measures the number of cells in a sample, and determinines certain cell characteristics such as size, shape and the presence of tumor markers.

Multiple Myeloma Treatment

Our hematology and blood cancer doctors work diligently to earn your trust. We explain all your treatment options and work with you and your family to achieve positive outcomes. You can expect our team to support you every step of the way, from your diagnosis and treatment, to your follow-up care.

Treatment of blood cancers at IU Health Simon Cancer Center includes the full range of treatment options. In cases of slow-growing cancers, we may suggest a “watch and wait” approach. With faster cancers, treatment may begin almost immediately.

Possible treatments include:

  • Chemotherapy. Destroys cancer cells with drugs.
  • Surgery. Removes the cancer, and sometimes, surrounding healthy tissue. Corrects any fractures resulting from the disease.
  • Radiotherapy. Destroys cancer cells and shrinks tumors.
  • Immunotherapy. Uses drugs that program your body’s immune system to fight cancer.
  • Monoclonal antibodies. Laboratory-produced substances that locate and bind to cancer cells in the body. They deliver drugs, toxins or radioactive material directly to a tumor.
  • Stem cell transplantation replaces bone marrow that has been destroyed high doses of drugs or radiation treatments. Transplant material may be your own marrow (harvested before other treatment) or that of a donor.

Compassionate care is also available through the CompleteLife Program, which offers support and education, and tends to your emotional, mental, social and spiritual needs.

Multiple Myeloma Research

Specialists at the IU Health Simon Cancer Center participate in blood cancer research and education at the national level. Our commitment to research gives advanced care and treatment to people with blood cancer, offering the highest level of expertise.  Hundreds of people with blood cancers are diagnosed and treated each year by our highly skilled doctors.

Specific topics include:

  • Understanding the mechanism that makes abnormal white blood cells thrive so that this mechanism can be attacked, triggering the death of the abnormal cells
  • 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. 

Research at the IU Health Simon Cancer Center includes clinical trials of treatments that may offer better outcomes for blood cancer than standard care. 

Current trials include:

  • Non-chemotherapy drugs that “trick” cancer cells into dying
  • Treatments that destroy damaged cells by attaching specially-designed, small molecules directly to them
  • Treatments that prevent or slow the progress of cancer by interrupting the process where cells become cancerous