It is characterized by the patchy accumulation of tumour cells within bone marrow leading to variable anaemia, bone destruction, hypercalcaemia, renal failure and infections.
Immune dysfunction is an important feature of the disease and leads to infections that are both a major cause of morbidity and mortality and may promote tumour growth and resistance to chemotherapy.
Numerous defects of the immune system have been described in multiple myeloma although the relative clinical importance of these remains elusive.
There has been considerable interest in the identification of an autologous response against myeloma.
Although T cells and humoral responses directed against myeloma-associated antigens have been described, it is uncertain if the immune system plays a role in preventing or controlling myeloma cell growth.
There is increasing interest in the potential role of immunotherapy but the success of these interventions is likely to be modified by the immunologically hostile environment associated with multiple myeloma.
This review attempts to summarize the current knowledge relating to the immune defects found in multiple myeloma.