Multiple Myeloma And Radiation Treatment

Radiation for myeloma uses high-power beams to damage myeloma cells. During multiple myeloma treatment, radiation is most often used to reduce tumor size in areas where a tumor is causing bone damage and/or pain.

What is Multiple Myeloma Radiation?

Radiation treatment involves the use of high-energy x-ray or particle beams produced by a machine. The beams are directed at the part of the body where a tumor is located. They penetrate the skin and destroy myeloma cells by damaging the DNA within the cancer cells.

Radiation can damage DNA directly or create free radicals that carry out this task. Your body breaks down damaged cancer cells and disposes of them. Some healthy cells are also damaged during radiation treatment, but your body is typically efficient at repairing them.

Radiation treatment doesn’t kill cancer cells immediately. It can take several days or weeks of treatment before cancer cells begin to die, and they may continue to die for several weeks or months after your treatment is over. Although most cancer radiation therapy is classified as “external beam radiation,” another type of radiation, known as internal radiation treatment, involves placing radioactive material close to a cancerous tumor inside your body.

What to Expect From Cancer Radiation Therapy

Typically, you receive radiation treatment as an outpatient at a hospital or clinic, and you are treated five days a week for approximately two to ten weeks. A session may only last for about 30 minutes, and the cancer radiation therapy itself usually only takes a few minutes. You may be asked to change into a hospital gown depending on where your tumor is.

Normally, you lie down during treatment. You may receive molds that hold your body in place and shields to protect certain areas of your body, such as your face. The radiation therapist leaves the room just before your treatment, but monitors you on a TV screen from another room. A large, sometimes noisy, machine rotates around you to target your tumor from several different angles. The machine doesn’t touch you at any point, nor should you feel any pain during your treatment.

Side Effects of Radiation for Myeloma

Temporary side effects of multiple myeloma radiation include fatigue and dry, itchy skin. Additional side effects depend on where on your body you receive cancer radiation therapy, but can include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dry mouth
  • Earaches
  • Hair loss (in treatment area)
  • Inflammation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Sore throat
  • Swelling
  • Urinary and bladder changes.

Most of these side effects disappear within a few months of completing radiation treatment. As with chemotherapy, late side effects can develop several months after treatment, including infertility, joint problems and secondary cancer. Talk to your doctor about what signs you should watch for.

Effectiveness of Multiple Myeloma Radiation

Radiation is rarely given in isolation, as it isn’t as effective as more advanced methods of myeloma treatment, such as stem cell transplantation. However, research shows that radiation is an effective method of treating localized pain at tumor sites.

Resources

American Cancer Society. (2010). Multiple myeloma. Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003121-pdf.pdf

Jyothirmayi, R., Gangadharan, V.P, Nair, M.K. & Rajan, B. (1997). Radiotherapy in the treatment of solitary plasmacytoma. The British Journal of Radiology, 70, 511-516. Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://bjr.birjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/70/833/511

Leigh, B.R., Kurtts, T.A., Mack, C.F., Matzner, M.B. & Shimm, D.S. (1993). Radiation therapy for the palliation of multiple myeloma. International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics, 25(5), 801-804. Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7683017

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2009). Radiation therapy. Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/radiation-therapy/MY00299

National Cancer Institute. (2007). Radiation therapy and you. Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://myeloma.org/pdfs/radiation-therapy-and-you.pdf

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. (n.d.). Radiation therapy for multiple myeloma. Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://www.seattlecca.org/diseases/myeloma-radiation.cfm