There are several treatment options for multiple myeloma, and sometimes a combination of methods is used. Myeloma can seldom be cured, but therapies may help keep the cancer in remission.
Patients have time for second opinions and to talk through all of their options with their doctors and develop a treatment plan that best fits their needs. The treatment plan varies on how advanced the disease is and whether the patient has symptoms.
- People with Stage I or smoldering myeloma may not need treatment for the cancer right away and may be able to put off treatment, therefore avoiding side effects of treatment. These patients have regular checkups and can start treatment if symptoms occur.
Watchful waiting does have risks; in some cases, it can reduce the chance to control the disease before it worsens.
- If the patient has symptoms, they will likely get induction therapy. Many types of drugs are used to treat myeloma, and patients often receive a combination. Drugs can be given by mouth or IV.
Each drug kills cancer cells differently:
- This kills fast-growing cells but can also harm normal cells that divide rapidly.
- Drugs are used to block the growth of myeloma cells by blocking the action of abnormal protein that stimulates the growth of myeloma cells.
- Some steroids can kill myeloma cells.
Stem Cell Transplant
- Many patients with multiple myeloma get a stem cell transplant. A transplant of blood-forming stem cells allows the patient to receive higher doses of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or both.
The patient receives these healthy stem cells through a large vein. New blood cells develop from the transplanted stem cells. Some patients may have two or more transplants.
There are two ways to get stem cells for people with myeloma. They usually come from the blood, but they can also come from the bone marrow.
The stem cells can come from the patient’s own body or a donor:
Autologous Stem Cell Transplantation
- The patient’s own stem cells are removed before high-dose treatment, frozen and stored for later use. After the high-dose treatment, the stored stem cells are thawed and returned to the body.
Allogenic Stem Cell Transplantation
- Healthy stem cells come from a donor. The donor may be a sibling, parent, or unrelated. Blood tests are used to make sure the donor’s cells match the patients.
Syngenic Stem Cell Transplantation
- This type of transplant uses stem cells from a patient's healthy identical twin.
Patients need regular check-ups after treatment for multiple myeloma. The doctor will check for return of cancer. Even when the cancer seems to have been completely destroyed, the disease sometimes returns because undetected myeloma cells remained somewhere in the body after treatment. Also, check-ups help detect health problems that can result from cancer treatment.
Check-ups may include a careful physical exam, blood tests, x-rays, or bone marrow biopsy.
Social networking and online support groups are important tools. Reaching out to others who have or have had similar experiences can provide you with valuable insights. Check out Cancer Support Community's The Living Room
for more information on clinically faciliated support online.