Okay, this is gonna sound complicated at first, but bear with me and let’s see if we can’t make it a bit easier… So, a diagnosis of multiple myeloma usually involves a blood test known as a “Serum Free Light Chain Assay”. Not only is this test crucial in diagnosis but it also lends itself to shaping the course of your myeloma treatment. Understanding how it works as a patient… well that is another story, but let’s take a crack at it together.
For those of you that do not have myeloma or who know little about this form of cancer that is a good starting point: Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells (white blood-blood cells). Plasma cells originate in your bone marrow and they crucial in fighting infections as they produce immunoglobulin, more commonly known as antibodies. Antibodies fight infection, which is the important bit, remember that.
When myeloma develops things go haywire, creating abnormal plasma cells that produce way too much of a particular antibody called “M-protein” (which kind of sounds like a bad rapper, right?). Well, this “M-protein” overpowers the healthy (normal) bone marrow cells, which opens the door to myeloma.
Remember we are talking about things on a cellular level, so this is small, really small… this “M-protein” the dominant-overpowering antibody (immunoglobulin) is composed of two different kinds of molecules, the two “chains”; Heavy Chain Molecules and Light Chain Molecules. For reasons unknown at this time you produce more Light Chain Molecules than you need, thus there are a ton of Light Chain Molecules floating around in your blood, being pumped out to all parts of your body. That is important, because as those myeloma cells make more and more “M-protein” the amount of Free Light Chain Molecules in your blood goes through the roof.
A huge amount of Free Light Chain Molecules in your blood is an indicator of “M-protein” which is an indicator of myeloma (cancer)
The test we first mentioned, the “Serum Free Light Chain Assay” shows all this to your doctor from a blood sample. That is the diagnostic (figuring out what is wrong) part when it comes to… Understanding Free Light Chains & Multiple Myeloma (see how we snuck the article title in there?). So, that out of the way let’s look at the “treatment” part.
We are only talking about Free Light Chains here, and there are two of them we need to know about; Kappa and Lambda (which sound like fraternities or sororities) Now, since we know pretty much the regular of “Normal” levels of both these Kappa and Lambda in the blood, that becomes a watermark for your doctor to compare to the levels of Kappa and Lambda in your blood. The levels of Kappa & Lambda are important as too much of one, not enough of the other, or a relative balance between the two tell your doctor if the myeloma is becoming aggressive and progressing, or if it weakening and heading toward remission.
So, when we have an (I am gonna do it again) understanding of free light chains & multiple myeloma and use the “Serum Free Light Chain Assay” test we have a vastly enriched ability to screen, detect, and diagnose myeloma, as well as a way to monitor and discover a relapse. For more information on myeloma please visit the International Myeloma Foundation and educate yourself. Knowledge and Positivity are your best defense against cancer.