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Pitfalls in Assessing Measurable Residual Disease in Plasma Cell Myeloma: a Comparison between Common Laboratory Tests by Tariq N. Aladily, Ahmad T. Mansour, Feras Al-Fararjeh, Abdalla Awidi

Background: Measurable residual disease (MRD) in plasma cell myeloma is one of the most important determinants for patients’ outcome. Several laboratory tests exist to assess for the presence of MRD with variable accuracy. The aim of this study is to examine the sensitivity of immunofixation electrophoresis (IFE), serum free light chain (FLC), bone marrow immunohistochemistry (IHC), and multicolor flow cytometry (FC) and to address potential caveats of each test.
Methods: Forty patients of plasma cell myeloma who were diagnosed with a positive MRD were retrospectively included in this study. The results of IFE and serum FLC at the time of bone marrow biopsy were collected.
Results: In all cases, malignant plasma cells constituted less than 5% of bone marrow cells. MRD was detected by FC in 38 cases (95%) and by IHC in 28 cases (70%). In 2 cases, residual malignant plasma cells appeared in the subcortical area which is difficult to aspirate, and thus they were detected by IHC but not by FC. Among the entire cohort, 38 patients (95%) had positive IFE at the time of bone marrow biopsy, while serum FLC abnormality was detected in 19 patients (48%) only.
Conclusions: Both FC and IFE exhibited high sensitivity in detecting MRD in plasma cell myeloma with comparable results. IFE remains less invasive and less expensive than FC. Despite the lower sensitivity of bone marrow IHC staining, its diagnostic role is essential and can be superior to FC in a subset of cases, for which its routine examination is recommended. Serum FLC test provided the least sensitivity among all tests.

DOI: 10.7754/Clin.Lab.2021.210454