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Staging is the process of finding out and describing how widespread or advanced the cancer is. This is very important because treatment options and the outlook for recovery depend on the stage of the cancer. Knowing all you can about staging helps you make the best choice about your treatment.

The International Staging System

The International Staging System for Multiple Myeloma divides cases of myeloma into 3 stages based only on the serum beta-2 microglobulin and serum albumin levels. (These are blood proteins that are measured with a blood test.)

The Durie-Salmon staging system

Multiple myeloma may also be staged using the Durie-Salmon system. Some doctors use this system, but it is not used as much because of newer tests that can be used. This system is based on 4 factors:

  • The amount of abnormal antibodies or proteins in the blood or urine: Large amounts show that there are many cancerous plasma cells.
  • The amount of calcium in the blood: High blood calcium levels are linked to advanced bone damage. Because bone contains lots of calcium, bone damage releases calcium into the blood.
  • The degree of bone damage based on x-rays: Many areas of bone damage seen on x-rays are a sign of an advanced stage of the cancer.
  • The amount of hemoglobin in the blood: Hemoglobin is the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen. Low hemoglobin levels mean that the myeloma cells fill a lot of the bone marrow. Not enough space is left for the marrow cells that make red blood cells.

This system uses these factors to divide myeloma into 3 stages. Stage I is the smallest amount of tumor, and stage III the largest.

Other ways to describe multiple myeloma

Smoldering myeloma: This term refers to early myeloma that does not seem to be growing and is not causing any symptoms. People with smoldering myeloma have normal blood counts, normal calcium levels, normal kidney function, and no bone or organ damage. These patients are often watched very carefully without treatment.

Recurrent multiple myeloma: Recurrent disease means that the cancer has come back (recurred) after treatment. Multiple myeloma can come back in the bone or in another part of the body.

Last Medical Review: 05/22/2014
Last Revised: 01/19/2016