Connect with others who understand.

sign up log in
About MyMyelomaTeam

Anemia With Multiple Myeloma: What You Need To Know

Posted on June 22, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Mark Levin, M.D.
Article written by
Julie Scott, ANP-BC, AOCNP

Multiple myeloma is cancer of the plasma cells in the blood and bone marrow. When these cells begin to overgrow, they leave little space for the bone marrow to be able to adequately produce other blood cells. These other blood cells include white blood cells, blood-clotting platelets, and red blood cells, which make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin transports oxygen around the body, and when hemoglobin is low, it is referred to as anemia. People with multiple myeloma may also have kidney damage. The kidneys produce a signal that stimulates the bone marrow to make red blood cells. Without that signal, red cell numbers may decrease and there may be anemia.

Anemia is a common finding in someone living with multiple myeloma, with 60 percent to 70 percent of people having anemia at the time of diagnosis. Anemia is often found during a routine blood draw or an investigation of myeloma symptoms.

Anemia in multiple myeloma can be caused by multiple factors. Anemia may be caused by the myeloma, or because of damage that multiple myeloma has caused to the kidneys. Anemia may also be a side effect of the medications given to treat the myeloma, or it may be caused by nutritional deficiencies.

Anemia From Multiple Myeloma

Blood cells are made inside the bone marrow, the spongy tissue found inside certain bones of the body. One type of blood cell is the plasma cell — part of the body’s immune system. Plasma cells develop from infection-fighting B cells and make antibodies, which fight off infections in the body. In addition to plasma cells, the bone marrow also makes white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.

When the plasma cells become cancerous, they grow rapidly and uncontrollably in the bone marrow. As the bone marrow becomes full of cancerous plasma cells, there isn’t enough space for the other, healthy blood cells to grow. This lack of space for red blood cells then causes anemia to develop.

Anemia From Kidney Dysfunction

The kidneys play an important role in hemoglobin production. When the kidneys sense decreasing red blood cell counts, they signal the bone marrow to make more red blood cells, by releasing a protein signal called erythropoietin. Multiple myeloma often causes damage to the kidneys when the abnormal proteins and light chains produced by cancer build up in the kidneys. One may or may not be able to see this damage in blood test results. As a result, the kidneys cannot work properly, and kidney dysfunction develops. As kidney function decreases due to these abnormal proteins, the kidneys send off less erythropoietin, and the bone marrow doesn’t produce enough red cells.

Anemia From Treatment

Many different therapies can treat multiple myeloma. These medications may be chemotherapy or may be in the class of immunomodulating medications, proteasome inhibitors, or monoclonal antibodies. These medications work in different ways to treat multiple myeloma. However, many of these medications may lead to the development of anemia as a side effect of the treatment.

Anemia From Nutritional Deficiencies

There may be other factors that contribute to anemia, such as deficiencies in iron, vitamin B12, or folate. Often, these may be present in addition to multiple myeloma. These nutritional deficiencies may occur due to decreased food intake or because of decreased absorption of nutrients through the gastrointestinal tract.

Impact and Symptoms of Anemia

Anemia can have a significant impact on how someone feels and can cause a variety of symptoms. Hemoglobin takes oxygen around the body, and when there isn’t enough hemoglobin to oxygenate as the body needs, symptoms may develop. These symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pale skin
  • Rapid or irregular heart rate
  • Headache

Many MyMyelomaTeam members have experienced anemia and described how anemia has affected their quality of life:

  • “I’m so tired all the time now.”
  • “I sleep really well but still feel tired.”
  • “My breathing is labored when I walk.”
  • “I’m tired and drained all the time … but I do have good days.”

Anemia Treatment

Treating anemia associated with multiple myeloma typically depends on the initial cause of the anemia. Blood transfusions may be required for people with severe anemia and help very quickly. A blood transfusion is a procedure in which someone receives blood that has been donated by another person. Transfusion can quickly improve the hemoglobin count and may quickly relieve symptoms associated with anemia. If the underlying cause of anemia is not treated, multiple blood transfusions may be necessary.

Treating Anemia From Multiple Myeloma

If the anemia is caused by multiple myeloma crowding out the bone marrow, treating the myeloma will ultimately improve the anemia. When treatment begins working, the abnormal plasma cells begin to die, and more space becomes available for normal cells in the bone marrow. Over time, the bone marrow can produce adequate amounts of hemoglobin

If anemia is caused by multiple myeloma treatment, giving the body time to recover from therapy may be required to allow the bone marrow to heal. If anemia is severe, the oncology team may make adjustments in the doses of medications being given to allow for treatment without significant anemia as a side effect.

Giving weekly or biweekly injections of erythropoietin under the skin provides the signal that is missing and leads to increased production of red cells.

Treating Anemia From Vitamin Deficiencies

Anemia caused by nutritional deficiencies such as iron, vitamin B12, or folate can be treated by supplementing these nutrients. Iron may be supplemented through intravenous infusion or oral pills. Folate is given through oral supplementation, and vitamin B12 may be given orally or through injection.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyMyelomaTeam is the social network for people with multiple myeloma and their loved ones. On MyMyelomaTeam, more than 11,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with multiple myeloma

Are you living with anemia and multiple myeloma? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyMyelomaTeam.

Mark Levin, M.D. is a hematology and oncology specialist with over 37 years of experience in internal medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Julie Scott, ANP-BC, AOCNP is an adult nurse practitioner with advanced practice oncology certification, based in St. Louis, Missouri. Learn more about her here.

Recent articles

Scientists don’t yet understand the exact causes of multiple myeloma. However, they have...

Exposure to Radiation and the Risk for Myeloma

Scientists don’t yet understand the exact causes of multiple myeloma. However, they have...
People with multiple myeloma may face myriad challenges, including health care disparities and...

How Would You Use $100,000 To Improve Myeloma Care?

People with multiple myeloma may face myriad challenges, including health care disparities and...
Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects white blood cells, specifically plasma cells....

Rashes and Skin Changes With Myeloma

Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects white blood cells, specifically plasma cells....
Solitary plasmacytoma and multiple myeloma are types of cancer that form from plasma cells....

Solitary Plasmacytoma vs. Myeloma: How Are They Different?

Solitary plasmacytoma and multiple myeloma are types of cancer that form from plasma cells....
For many people diagnosed with multiple myeloma, weight loss was one of the first signs that...

Weight Changes and Myeloma

For many people diagnosed with multiple myeloma, weight loss was one of the first signs that...
Shortness of breath, also called dyspnea, is a common symptom of multiple myeloma, a type of...

Breathing Problems and Multiple Myeloma

Shortness of breath, also called dyspnea, is a common symptom of multiple myeloma, a type of...
People living with multiple myeloma often experience dizziness. For some MyMyelomaTeam members,...

Dizziness and Multiple Myeloma

People living with multiple myeloma often experience dizziness. For some MyMyelomaTeam members,...
Several different risk factors can increase your chance of developing multiple myeloma. One known...

Which Workplace Chemicals Raise the Risk for Myeloma?

Several different risk factors can increase your chance of developing multiple myeloma. One known...
A myeloma diagnosis is a life-changing event that can alter the way you think about your future....

Medical Power of Attorney and Myeloma

A myeloma diagnosis is a life-changing event that can alter the way you think about your future....
Like all cancers, multiple myeloma is caused by genetic mutations that allow cells to divide and...

What Causes Multiple Myeloma?

Like all cancers, multiple myeloma is caused by genetic mutations that allow cells to divide and...
MyMyelomaTeam My myeloma Team

Thank you for signing up.

close