Plasma cell leukaemia (PCL) happens when something goes wrong with the development of plasma cells (which help to fight infection) and too many of these cells enter the bloodstream. This can lead to problems with your liver, spleen and kidneys.

PCL causes many of the same symptoms as myeloma but is more aggressive so usually requires stronger treatment.

There are two types of plasma cell leukaemia:

  • primary plasma cell leukaemia – this affects people who haven’t had myeloma, and
  • secondary plasma cell leukaemia – this is when myeloma develops into plasma cell leukaemia.


What is plasma cell leukaemia (PCL)?

Healthy plasma cells make antibodies, which fight infection. If you have plasma cell leukaemia, your body produces paraproteins instead of antibodies. Paraproteins can’t fight infections properly, and this can make you unwell. It’s not clear exactly what causes plasma cell leukaemia, but we do know that your age, sex and ethnicity can make a difference to how likely you are to develop it. A small number of people with myeloma will develop secondary PCL.

PCL symptoms and diagnosis

The symptoms of plasma cell leukaemia are similar to the symptoms of myeloma. You might experience pain or swelling in your tummy (abdomen), yellowing of your skin or unexplained weight loss or feel full after only eating small amounts. If your doctor thinks you might have plasma cell leukaemia, they’ll carry out blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy.

PCL treatment and side effects

Chemotherapy is usually used to treat plasma cell leukaemia, but you may also be offered an autologous stem cell transplant. This is where your own stem cells are collected before you have chemotherapy and then returned once the chemotherapy has killed as many of the cancerous cells as possible.

> For more information, download or order our booklet: Chemotherapy

> For more information on stem cell transplants, download or order our booklet: The seven steps: blood stem cell and bone marrow transplants

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