What is a plasmacytoma?

A plasmacytoma is a malignant tumor of plasma cells. Plasmacytoma usually occurs when the cancer begins in the plasma cells, or white blood cells, which produce antibodies. The malignant plasma cells usually do not die as they should, but instead accumulate and form a tumor known as a plasmacytoma. Plasmacytomas usually form in the bone marrow or in soft tissues such as the esophagus. Bone plasmacytoma can spread to other bones and develop into multiple myeloma.

Plasma cells form a vital part of the immune system because they produce the antibodies that provide immunity to disease. The typical immune system has a different type of plasma cells for each type of antibody that is produced. Healthy plasma cells generally age and die to be replaced by new cells. When plasma cell cancer occurs, new cells can form too quickly and old cells can live too long. The presence of excess plasma cells in the body can lead to the development of a tumor in the bone marrow or extramedullary tissues.

The extramedullary tissues are the soft tissues of the sinuses, throat, and esophagus. When plasmacytomas form in extramedullary tissues, they can usually be cured with a combination of surgery and radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Plasmacytoma of the bone is usually treated with radiation therapy. Plasmacytoma can be diagnosed by blood tests, urine tests, X-rays, and biopsy.

The outlook for plasmacytoma depends on the stage of the cancer, the general health and age of the patient, and the response of the cancer to treatment. Plasmacytoma is staged according to whether it occurs in extramedullary tissues or in a single bone. An isolated plasmacytoma occurs in the bone marrow of a bone, occupies no more than 5 percent of that bone's marrow, and does not cause overt symptoms of cancer. An extramedullary plasmacytoma occurs in the soft tissues of the throat, esophagus, or sinuses and not in any bone. The prognosis of extramedullary plasmacytoma is usually better than that of isolated plasmacytoma.

When plasmacytoma spreads to multiple bones, the resulting condition is often referred to as multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma can be a slow-growing cancer that doesn't cause symptoms for years. Multiple myeloma can affect the bone marrow's ability to make adequate supplies of blood cells. Symptoms can include bone pain, fatigue, recurrent infection, and easily broken bones.

Multiple myeloma can be difficult to treat. Patients in the early stages of the disease are often monitored without treatment. Treatment usually begins when symptoms become more severe.

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