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What is Light-Chain Myeloma?

By Matthew Brodsky
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Multiple myeloma is a form of cancer that afflicts human bone marrow and blood cells. There are different stages and varieties of this incurable form of cancer, and each one produces different symptoms and levels of risk to the patients' well-being and life. Light-chain myeloma, also known as light-chain disease, is a type of multiple myeloma in which the malignant bone marrow cells produce free monoclonal light chain proteins. This type of myeloma is usually more severe than the classic kind.

As many as 18 percent of all multiple myeloma cancer patients have the light-chain myeloma variety. One of the telltale signs of this form of cancer is that the cancerous bone marrow cells produce monoclonal light chain proteins. The cancer cells, however, do not produce heavy chain proteins or complete immunoglobulin. They produce light chain protein that can be easily filtered by the kidney. These proteins are called Bence-Jones proteins.

Light-chain myeloma typically is much more aggressive than the typical form. Patients face a more rapid doubling time for the disease, and they have a greater tendency to develop bone lesions, or osteolyticlesions. They also tend to have an increased prevalence of hypercalcemia, or calcium in the blood. Their risk of amyloidosis and leukemia is also higher as they progress farther into the later stages of the disease. Light-chain myeloma sufferers also have higher rates of kidney failure than regular myeloma patients, and in fact, this is what usually causes their death.

When a patient goes to his doctor with symptoms of multiple myeloma, the physician will first look at the major indicators of multiple myeloma to determine what type and stage of the cancer they have. The main indicators of light-chain myeloma are elevated levels of calcium in the blood, low levels of red blood cells, bone lesions and bone pain, and reduced kidney function. Patients who do not have any clear evidence of these symptoms may have what is called smoldering multiple myeloma.

Upon diagnosis the physician can determine a course of treatment. The treatment will depend on the specific type of the cancer and the stage of the disease the patient has. Treatment can include chemotherapy. Experimental drugs may also be used. The patient may be given a bone marrow transplant. Physicians might prescribe medications to help protect patients from the side effects of multiple myeloma, including kidney damage, bone breakdown, and infection.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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