• Article

Clinical relevance of trace bands on serum electrophoresis in patients without a history of gammopathy

Serum protein electrophoresis (SPE) and immunofixation is commonly used to screen for plasma cell dyscrasias. Interpretation of these tests is qualitative by nature and can yield trace, faint, or scarcely visible immunoglobulin bands (TFS), which can be difficult to classify. Whether these bands should be reported at all is challenging given their unknown clinical significance. In the present study, we retrospectively analyzed 14,036 physician-ordered protein SPE and immunofixation electrophoresis (IFE) tests on serum and urine specimens (from 4,091 patients) during the period of 2000-2010. We found that 17% of all IFE results evaluated for the presence of monoclonal gammopathies (2,389 out of 14,036) contained TFS bands, representing 4.2% (173 out of 4091) of all patients evaluated. Sixty of these patients (42%) had no previous history of gammopathy, and were clinically evaluated over a mean period of up to five years from the original diagnosis of plasma cell pathology. None of these patients had progressed to multiple myeloma, lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma, plasmacytoma, or leukemia. The remaining 82 patients (58%) had a previous history of gammopathy, but had not progressed to any symptomatic plasma cell dyscrasia. Evaluation of these patients was followed for a median period of 4.3 years, with a mean of 21.5 IFE tests per individual. These data suggest that for patients without a previous history of gammopathy, the presence of TFS bands on serum protein electrophoresis does not warrant frequent follow up investigation as commonly practiced. Routine follow up of patients with a prior history of gammopathy, conversely, are warranted and may contribute to overall survival with multiple treatment options now available. For those interpreting IFE results, it may be worth considering these data when composing comments regarding suggested repeat testing frequency by SPE/IFE or alternate test methods.


Gwathmey, T. M., Willis, M. S., Tatreau, J., Wang, S., & McCudden, C. R. (2015). Clinical relevance of trace bands on serum electrophoresis in patients without a history of gammopathy. EJIFCC, 26(2), 114-24.