Smoldering multiple myeloma (SMM) is characterized by a serum M protein ≥ 3g/dL and/or 10% or more of plasma cells in the bone marrow. However, the definition is not standardized, and it is not known whether both serum M protein levels and bone marrow plasma cell counts are necessary for diagnosis or if one parameter is sufficient. We reviewed the medical records and bone marrows of all patients from Mayo Clinic seen within 30 days of recognition of an IgG or IgA M protein ≥ 3g/dL or a bone marrow containing ≥ 10% plasma cells from 1970 to 1995. This allows for a minimum potential follow-up of 10 years. Patients with end-organ damage at baseline from plasma cell proliferation, including active multiple myeloma (MM) and primary amyloidosis (AL) and those who had received chemotherapy were excluded. A differential of the bone marrow aspirate coupled with the bone marrow biopsy morphology and immunohistochemistry using antibodies directed against CD138, MUM-1 and Cyclin D1 were evaluated in every case in order to estimate the plasma cell content. In all, 301 patients fulfilled either of the criteria for SMM. Their median age was 64 years and only 3% were less than 40 years of age; 60% were male. The median hemoglobin value was 12.9 g/dL; 7% were less than 10 g/dL, but the anemia was unrelated to plasma cell proliferation. IgG accounted for 75%, IgA 22%, and biclonal proteins were found in 3%. The serum light-chain was κ in 67% and λ in 33%. The median serum M spike was 2.9 g/dL; 11% were at least 4.0 g/dL. Uninvolved serum immunoglobulins were reduced in 81%; only 1 immunoglobulin was reduced in 31% and both were decreased in 50%. The urine contained a monoclonal κ protein in 36% and λ in 18% and 46% were negative. The median size of the urine M spike was 0.04 g/24h; only 5 (3%) were > 1 g/24h. The median bone marrow plasma cell content was 15 – 19%; 10% had less than 10% plasma cells, while 10% had at least 50% plasma cells in the bone marrow. Cyclin D-1 was expressed in 17%.

Patients were categorized into 3 groups: Group 1, serum M protein ≥ 3g/dL and bone marrow containing ≥ 10% plasma cells (n= 113, 38%); Group 2, bone marrow plasma cells ≥ 10% but serum M protein < 3g/dL (n= 158, 52%); Group 3, serum M protein ≥ 3g/dL but bone marrow plasma cells < 10% (n= 30, 10%). During 2,204 cumulative years of follow-up 85% died (median follow-up of those still living 10.8 years), 155 (51%) developed MM, while 7 (2%) developed AL. The overall rate of progression at 10 years was 62%; median time to progression was 5.5 yrs. The median time to progression was 2.4, 9.2, and 19 years in groups 1, 2, and 3 respectively; correspondingly at 10 years, progression occurred in 76%, 59%, and 32% respectively. Significant risk factors for progression with univariate analysis were serum M spike ≥ 4g/dL (p < 0.001), presence of IgA (p = 0.003), presence of urine light chain (p = 0.006), presence of λ urinary light chain (p = 0.002), bone marrow plasma cells ≥ 20% (p < 0.001) and reduction of uninvolved immunoglobulins (p < 0.001). The hemoglobin value, gender, serum albumin, and expression of cyclin D-1 were not of prognostic importance. On multivariate analysis, the percentage of bone marrow plasma cells was the only significant factor predicting progression to MM or AL.

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