The purpose of this study was to quantitate the number and labeling index of monoclonal plasma cells in the blood of patients with newly diagnosed multiple myeloma (MM) to learn if these values were independent prognostic factors for survival. Patients were candidates for this study if they had untreated myeloma requiring therapy, were evaluated at our institution between 1984 and 1993, and had a sample of blood analyzed with a sensitive immunofluorescence technique for monoclonal plasma cells and the blood B-cell labelling index (BLI). The % blood monoclonal plasma cells (%BPC) and the BLI were analyzed along with stage, marrow plasma cell LI, % marrow plasma cells, calcium, creatinine, albumin, beta-2-microglobulin, and C-reactive protein as univariate and multivariate factors for survival. Eighty percent of the 254 patients accrued to this study had monoclonal BPC detected. The median % BPC was 6% and 57% (144 of 254) of patients had a high number (> or = 4%). Patients with > or = 4% BPC had a median survival of 2.4 years vs 4.4 years for those with < 4% BPC (P < .001). The BLI was also prognostic (P = .008). In a multivariate analysis, the % BPC, age, albumin, stage, marrow plasma cell LI, and the BLI were independent factors for survival. The %BPC and the marrow plasma cell LI best separated the group into low, intermediate, and high risk myeloma with median survivals of 52, 35, and 26 months, respectively. Patients with high %BPC were less likely to have lytic bone disease from their MM (P = .002). The %BPC and the BLI are independent prognostic factors for survival and are useful in identifying patients as low, intermediate, and high risk. Clonal cells in the blood should be quantified in future clinical trials for myeloma.

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