What testing is involved in multiple myeloma diagnosis and treatment? Watch as myeloma expert Dr. Elizabeth O’Donnell explains specific types of myeloma testing and what they check for, and patient and Empowerment Lead Lisa Hatfield shares testing that she’s received and typical tests for myeloma diagnosis and care.
So how is multiple myeloma diagnosed? The International Myeloma Working Group (IMWG) confirms diagnosis with both:
- Presence of malignant plasma cells in the bone marrow at greater or equal to 10 percent or presence of extramedullary or bony plasmacytoma, confirmed with biopsy
- CRAB features:
- Calcium elevation: serum calcium greater than 0.25 mmol/L (> 1mg/dL) higher than the upper limit of normal or greater than 2.75 mmol/L (> 11 mg/dL)
- Renal failure (or kidney failure): creatinine clearance less than 40 mL per minute or serum creatinine greater than 177 μmol/L (> 2 mg/dL)
- Anemia: hemoglobin concentration of greater than 2 g/dL below the lower limit of normal, or a hemoglobin concentration of less than 10 g/dL
- Bony lesions: one or more osteolytic lesions found on X-ray, CT scan, or PET‑CT scan
- Ratio of involved/uninvolved serum free light chain ratio greater than or equal to 100
- Clonal plasma cells in the bone marrow greater than or equal to 60 percent
- One or more focal lesions found on MRI studies (measuring a minimum of 5 mm in size)
Dr. Elizabeth O’Donnell:
Testing really does depend a little bit on the stage at which your disease is found. In general, we use a very specific blood test that lets us know that there is clonal protein present. Remember, plasma cells are a type of white blood cell, and they make something called antibodies. We use a test called a serum protein electrophoresis, which is a blood test – an SPEP, we call it – that can tell us the difference between normal, healthy antibody and clone that are made from the plasma cells that we see in MGUS, smoldering, and multiple myeloma…once we identify that there’s a plasma cell disorder, then that can set in place a workup, depending on the amount of clonal, monoclonal, M-protein that we see.
So, sometimes that involves bone imaging. Historically that was a skeletal survey where we took lots of X-rays of your body. Now we have other tests we use. PET scans, CT scans, whole body MRIs. Sometimes it depends where you’re getting your treatment, and also it depends a little bit on your doctor’s degree of suspicion.
So my myeloma was diagnosed using a scan. An MRI was done of my spine, and that’s when my doctor saw the plasmacytoma in my spine. Further testing indicated that I had something called kappa light chain myeloma. So a lot of patients will have regular tests done, blood work that may show anemia. I think if anybody has an indication of myeloma, further testing should be looked at. There’s something called a light chain assay, a normal CBC, a metabolic panel, a light chain assay was critical in my case, because all my protein levels were coming back normal. Some patients have an elevated level of protein in their blood. Mine was normal. So having all the standard blood work plus having the light chain assay done.
And then really the gold standard for diagnosing myeloma, unfortunately, right now is a bone marrow biopsy. It’s not fun. It’s not horrible. So for patients who are anticipating that, you can get through it. It will be okay. That is the gold standard for diagnosing the myeloma, the type of myeloma, and then any cytogenetics related to that myeloma that help guide the therapy that you might be getting going forward.