Bence-Jones Protein (Urine)
Does this test have other names?
Urine protein electrophoresis, UPEP, urine immunofixation electrophoresis, immunoassay
for free light chains
What is this test?
The Bence-Jones protein urine test is used mainly to diagnose and monitor multiple
myeloma, a type of cancer. An abnormal Bence-Jones test result is also linked with
malignant lymphomas. These are cancers of the lymphatic system.
Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer of the plasma cells. These are immune system cells
that make special molecules called antibodies to help fight infections. Because most
plasma cells live in bone marrow, multiple myeloma tumors are usually, but not always,
found in bone.
The bone marrow is where blood cells are made. Because multiple myeloma crowds out
bone marrow, it can cause several kinds of blood problems:
Anemia. This is a shortage of red blood cells. It can lead to weakness and exhaustion.
Thrombocytopenia. This is a shortage of blood platelets called thrombocytes. These
are needed to form blood clots. This condition causes extra bleeding or bruising.
Leukopenia. This is a shortage of white blood cells. It can lead to a weakening of
the immune system.
Healthy plasma cells are one kind of blood cell that can be crowded out by multiple
myeloma. Instead of a variety of plasma cells making antibodies to fight a variety
of infections, myeloma tumors make "monoclonal" antibodies. Monoclonal means they
are all of one kind, making them ineffective and even harmful. Not only do they not
fight infections, but they also can damage the kidneys. These monoclonal proteins
are made up of two light chains and two heavy chains. Bence-Jones proteins are the
light chain part of these monoclonal antibodies. These light chains (Bence-Jones proteins) show
up in the urine in many of cases of multiple myeloma.
Myeloma cells also make chemical signals that tell osteoclasts to work overtime. Osteoclasts
are cells that break down bone. Multiple myeloma can thus weaken bones and lead to
fractures. The breakdown of bone material can also lead to higher-than-normal levels
of calcium in the blood. High blood calcium (hypercalcemia) can cause many problems.
These range from extra thirst and urination to dehydration, kidney problems, and,
in extreme cases, coma.
Why do I need this test?
You might have a Bence-Jones protein test and other tests to check for multiple myeloma
if you have some of these symptoms:
Bone pain, or even fracturing, especially in the back, hips, or skull
High blood calcium, likely caused by the breakdown of bone
Low counts of red or white blood cells or platelets in the blood
Nervous system problems, including pain, numbness, or weakness. These can be caused
by bones deteriorating and pinching nerves or by myeloma-made toxins that damage nerves.
Stroke-like symptoms, confusion, and dizziness. These symptoms should be brought to
a healthcare provider's attention right away. They can also be symptoms of multiple
myeloma because the myeloma cells sometimes make chemicals that cause the blood to
become thicker. This can limit blood flow to the brain.
Weakness and swelling of the legs. This can be caused by kidney damage resulting from
An increased vulnerability to infections. This may be from myeloma's impact on the
What other tests might I have along with this test?
The diagnosis of multiple myeloma often needs a variety of tests. In addition to the
test to check for Bence-Jones proteins in your urine, a healthcare provider may order
blood tests and also tests on bone and bone marrow. Possible blood tests include:
Complete blood count, or CBC. This checks the numbers of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in the
Chemistry profile. This checks your levels of albumin, blood urea nitrogen, calcium, creatinine, and
lactate dehydrogenase. These levels can give healthcare providers information about
kidney function and how multiple myeloma has spread.
Beta-2 microglobulin and C-reactive protein. The levels of these proteins help find out how multiple myeloma has spread.
Quantitative immunoglobulin testing. This checks levels of various kinds of antibodies.
Serum protein electrophoresis, or SPEP. This checks the levels of various proteins in the blood. In particular, this test
can detect the presence of "M protein," another name for the large number of abnormal
monoclonal antibodies being made.
Immunofixation electrophoresis, or IFE. This test also looks at proteins that come from abnormal antibodies.
Electrophoresis and immunoelectrophoresis of concentrated urine. Both of these tests are other ways of finding a monoclonal light chain in the urine.
Possible tests on bone and bone marrow include:
X-rays can be used to check for bone damage. Other imaging tests such as MRI, CT,
or PET may be used to look at bones for damage and also to see the number and size
of myeloma tumors.
A bone marrow sample may be taken so that the cells in the marrow can be directly
looked at for multiple myeloma.
What do my test results mean?
Many things may affect your lab test results. These include the method each lab uses
to do the test. Even if your test results are different from the normal value, you
may not have a problem. To learn what the results mean for you, talk with your healthcare
You usually have no Bence-Jones proteins in your urine. The presence of Bence-Jones
proteins in urine can be a sign of multiple myeloma or another rare condition called
Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia. About 50% to 80% of people with multiple myeloma have
Bence-Jones proteins in their urine.
This protein can also be present if you have monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined
significance, or MGUS. In this condition, your plasma cells make more of one kind
of antibody than they should, but they don't form a tumor or make enough antibodies
to do damage. MGUS doesn't generally need treatment. But if you have MGUS, you are
at higher risk of developing multiple myeloma. You are also at higher risk for lymphoma,
a cancer affecting white blood cells, or amyloidosis, the buildup of certain proteins
in tissues. For these reasons, you should be watched by a healthcare provider.
If you have been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a Bence-Jones protein urine level
can also be used as one of several ways to find out the stage of the cancer. That
is, how far it has progressed. The other factors used in staging are your calcium
level, hemoglobin level, and X-ray findings.
The Bence-Jones proteins are also found in some people with lymphoma.
How is this test done?
The lab may measure the amount of Bence-Jones protein in a 24-hour urine sample. To
do this test, you will need to collect all the urine you pass during a 24-hour period.
You will collect it in a container that your healthcare provider or the lab gives
Urine protein electrophoresis, or UPEP, tests the levels of various proteins in the
urine, including Bence-Jones proteins. This test does not require a 24-hour sample,
just a small sample placed in a collection cup at the lab.
What might affect my test results?
If your healthcare provider uses a test strip to look for Bence-Jones proteins, the
strip may not detect them. The best way to find these proteins is to use electrophoresis
or an immunoassay. Also talk with your provider to find out whether any of the medicines
you are taking might affect your test results.
How do I get ready for this test?
You don't need to prepare for this test. But be sure your healthcare provider knows
about all medicines, herbs, vitamins, and supplements you are taking. This includes
medicines that don’t need a prescription and any illicit drugs you may use.