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Multiple myeloma is a cancer of cells called plasma cells. These cells are part of the body's immune system and produce antibodies.
Multiple myeloma can cause anaemia, kidney failure or other problems such as damage to the bones. At first people may be unaware that they have multiple myeloma. Once they develop symptoms treatment is considered.
The treatment depends on whether the patient can have a transplant of their own healthy cells. Usually younger patients have a transplant while older patients do not. This is because patients have to have intensive treatment with anticancer drugs before transplantation, and older patients find it hard to tolerate the treatment required.
Several new medicines are being studied in the treatment of multiple myeloma. These include thalidomide, a medicine that was once withdrawn because of its serious side effects on unborn babies. The new medicines appear to improve the survival of patients with multiple myeloma, but they are not a cure.