Treatment of Multiple Myeloma

Different types of treatments are available for patients with multiple myeloma and other plasma cell neoplasms. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. Ten types of standard treatment are used:  

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the spinal column, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Other Drug Therapy

  • Corticosteroid therapy
    • Corticosteroids are steroids that have antitumor effects in lymphomas and lymphoid leukemias.
  • Thalidomide and lenalidomide
    • Thalidomide and lenalidomide are drugs called angiogenesis inhibitors that prevent the growth of new blood vessels into a solid tumor.
 

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy is a treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells. Proteasome inhibitor therapy and monoclonal antibody therapy are two types of targeted therapy used in the treatment of multiple myeloma and other plasma cell neoplasms.
  • Bortezomib is a proteasome inhibitor, which blocks the action of proteasomes in cancer cells and may prevent the growth of tumors.
  • Rituximab is a monoclonal antibody. Monoclonal antibody therapy uses antibodies made in the laboratory, from a single type of immune system cell. These antibodies can identify substances on cancer cells or normal substances that may help cancer cells grow. The antibodies attach to the substances and kill the cancer cells, block their growth, or keep them from spreading. Monoclonal antibodies are given by infusion. They may be used alone or to carry drugs, toxins, or radioactive material directly to cancer cells.
 

High-dose Chemotherapy With Stem Cell Transplant

This treatment is a way of giving high doses of chemotherapy and replacing blood-forming cells destroyed by the cancer treatment. Stem cells (immature blood cells) are removed from the blood or bone marrow of the patient or a donor and are frozen and stored. After the chemotherapy is completed, the stored stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient through an infusion. These reinfused stem cells grow into (and restore) the body’s blood cells.

Biologic Therapy

Biologic therapy is a treatment that uses the patient’s immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body’s natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy or immunotherapy.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Surgery

Surgery to remove the tumor may be done, usually followed by radiation therapy. Treatment given after the surgery, to increase the chances of a cure, is called adjuvant therapy.

Watchful Waiting

Watchful waiting is closely monitoring a patient’s condition without giving any treatment until symptoms appear or change.

Plasmapheresis

Plasmapheresis is a procedure in which blood is removed from the patient and sent through a machine that separates the plasma (the liquid part of the blood) from the blood cells. The patient’s plasma contains the unneeded antibodies and is not returned to the patient. The normal blood cells are returned to the bloodstream along with donated plasma or a plasma replacement. Plasmapheresis does not prevent new antibodies from forming.

Supportive Care

This therapy controls problems or side effects caused by the disease or its treatment, and improves quality of life. Supportive care is given to treat bone problems or amyloidosis related to multiple myeloma and other plasma cell neoplasms.

Clinical Trials

A clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment. New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials. Clinical trials are studying different combinations of biologic therapy, chemotherapy, steroid therapy, and drugs such as thalidomide or lenalidomide.

Follow-up

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. This is sometimes called re-staging. Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.