Multiple Myeloma Chemotherapy Treatment

Chemotherapy for myeloma uses potent chemicals to stop or slow the growth of myeloma cancer cells. In a multiple myeloma treatment plan, chemotherapy may be used alone or in conjunction with stem cell therapy.

What is Multiple Myeloma Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy works to kill myeloma cells that are dividing. While most cells in your body don’t divide until they need to repair damaged tissue, rapid cell division is a hallmark of cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs are developed to specifically target dividing cells by damaging the genes inside the cell nucleus. Without a functional cell nucleus, the myeloma cell dies.

Different drugs target myeloma cancer cells at different stages of division. Your doctor may prescribe a combination of chemotherapy drugs in order to damage as many cancer cells as possible.

What to Expect from Chemotherapy for Myeloma

Chemotherapy for myeloma can be taken orally or given intravenously in the hospital, doctor’s office or in your own home. Chemotherapy is given in cycles with a period of rest in between each treatment cycle. The chemotherapy drugs and dosage you receive depends on a number of factors, such as your age, allergies, health and personal preferences.

One of the most influential factors is whether you’re a candidate for a stem cell transplant. If so, you’ll receive high-dose chemotherapy in preparation for transplantation. If you’re not a candidate, you’ll receive a conventional dose of chemotherapy. Typically, stem cell transplant candidates are individuals under the age of 70 who are in good physical health.

Side Effects of Multiple Myeloma Chemotherapy

Because healthy cells can also be damaged during treatment, chemotherapy for myeloma is often associated with some harsh side effects. While each chemotherapy drug produces its own set of side effects, the most common ones are:

  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Digestive problems
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Hair loss
  • Increased risk of bleeding and bruising
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mouth sores
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain
  • Skin irritation.

Most of these side effects disappear after treatment is over. However, some more serious side effects may not show up until months or years after treatment, including:

  • Heart problems
  • Infertility
  • Kidney problems
  • Lung tissue damage
  • Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage)
  • Risk of developing a second cancer.

Talk to your doctor about your risk of developing late side effects.

Effectiveness of Multiple Myeloma Chemotherapy

In a large-scale study published in the “New England Journal of Medicine” (2003), 401 previously untreated myeloma cancer patients were treated with either conventional-dose chemotherapy or high-dose chemotherapy and an autologous stem cell transplant (using stem cells from one’s own body).

Researchers found that the rates of complete response to treatment were 44 percent in the high-dose group but only eight percent in the standard-dose group. The high-dose group also exhibited a higher overall survival rate than the standard dose group. The results of this study confirm that high-dose chemotherapy, accompanied by stem cell therapy, is an effective front line multiple myeloma treatment.

Resources

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

Cancer Research UK. (n.d.). How chemotherapy works. Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://www.cancerhelp.org.uk/about-cancer/treatment/chemotherapy/about/how-chemotherapy-works

Child, J.A., Morgan, G.J., Davies, F.E., Owen, R.G., Bell, S.E., Hawkins, K., . . . Brown, J. (2003). High-dose chemotherapy with hematopoietic stem-cell rescue for multiple myeloma. New England Journal of Medicine, 348(19), 1875-1883. Retrieved on October 6, 2010, from http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa022340

Maltzman, J. D. & Millar, L. B. (n.d.). Chemotherapy primer: Why? What? and How? Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://www.oncolink.org/treatment/article.cfm?c=2&s=9&id=224

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2009). Chemotherapy. Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/chemotherapy/MY00536

National Cancer Institute. (2007) Chemotherapy and you: Support for people with cancer. Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/chemotherapy-and-you/page1

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