Plasma cell leukaemia

Find out more about plasma cell leukaemia, including its symptoms, and how it’s diagnosed, treated and managed.

What is plasma cell leukaemia?

Plasma cell leukaemia (PCL), also known as plasma cell myeloma, is a rare type of cancer characterised by unusually high levels of abnormal plasma cells in the blood. Plasma cell leukaemia is similar to myeloma, in the way it affects the plasma cells that are normally found in the bone marrow and form part of the immune system. In both myeloma and PCL, the plasma cells become abnormal and multiply out of control.

PCL can start by itself or it can evolve from advanced myeloma. It is more aggressive than myeloma and usually requires more intensive monitoring and treatment.

What are the symptoms and complications of plasma cell leukaemia?

The initial symptoms and complications of primary plasma cell leukaemia are similar to myeloma; however, they tend to be more severe. The most common symptoms and complications include:

  • Anaemia
  • Bone pain
  • Fatigue
  • Recurring infections
  • Bleeding
  • Hypercalcaemia (high blood calcium levels)
  • Kidney damage

How is plasma cell leukaemia diagnosed?

Plasma cell leukaemia is diagnosed by the number of abnormal plasma cells in the blood. A diagnosis is confirmed when there are more than 2 million abnormal plasma cells per millilitre of blood, or when abnormal plasma cells make up more than 20 per cent of the total number of white blood cells present in the blood.

How is plasma cell leukaemia treated and managed?

Current treatments for plasma cell leukaemia are the same as those used in myeloma and include drugs such as thalidomide, bortezomib (Velcade®) and lenalidomide (Revlimid®). High-dose therapy and stem cell transplantation is generally offered to younger and/or fitter patients. Supportive treatment is important to help prevent or reduce the symptoms and complications of PCL. These may include pain-killers, blood transfusions and antibiotics.

Further reading

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