Bone marrow and how blood cells are made
A lot of blood cells are made in the bone marrow (the soft material inside your bones) every second, because your body needs them.
If everything’s working normally, your body makes the right number of each type of cell to keep you healthy.
All blood cells start off in your bone marrow as a type of cell called a stem cell. Stem cells divide again and again, each time becoming more like a mature, fully formed blood cell. One type of blood cell created when stem cells divide is a white blood cell called a lymphocyte.
There are lots of different kinds of lymphocyte, but the important ones to know about are B cells and T cells.
B-cell lymphocytes divide to form plasma cells that produce proteins called antibodies, which fight infections in your body. T-cell lymphocytes also play a number of supportive roles in our immune system.
In myeloma it’s the plasma cells which are affected – they make abnormal antibodies.
It also means that too many plasma cells are made, so there’s not enough room in the bone marrow for other blood cells to develop. This means they can’t do the jobs they normally do to keep you well.
Your immune system is a network of cells, tissues and organs which protect your body against infections. Antibodies are a crucial part of the immune system. In myeloma the normal antibodies can be swamped by the production of an abnormal antibody, so your body’s defences will often be low.
This means you might get:
They could be more severe than usual and last longer. Your healthcare team can let you know ways to reduce your risk.
Shingles is an infection of a nerve and the skin around it. It can affect you if you’ve had chickenpox, even if you had it a long time ago. You’re more likely to get shingles if your immune system isn’t working well – for example if you have myeloma.
Cold sores (herpes simplex virus)
Because of your weakened immune system, you may be more prone to getting a viral infection called herpes simplex, which can lead to an outbreak of cold sores. If you develop these, you should ask your specialist for tablets to stop the cold sores spreading, because over-the-counter creams will not be enough to control them in people who have myeloma.