Chemotherapy for Multiple Myeloma
by Debra Wood, RN
Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body. Chemotherapy primarily affects cancer cells, but some healthy cells can also be damaged. The treatment plan and doses will be adjusted to provide the best effect against cancer with minimal side effects. Chemotherapy is the main treatment for multiple myeloma but, it is often used in combination with other treatments. Currently, there is no cure for myeloma, so treatment is designed to prolong life by reducing the effects of myeloma on bodily functions and reducing discomfort.
Three phases of chemotherapy are used to treat multiple myeloma:
Chemotherapy Drugs and Delivery
There are a variety of chemotherapy drugs. Standard chemotherapy drugs may be combined with biologic and/or targeted therapies.
Biologic therapies (also called immunotherapy) help the body fight cancer cells using natural processes. It may help stimulate the immune system to better attack cancer cells, control the growth of cancer, or change cancer behavior. Medications include thalidomide, pomalidomide, lenalidomide, or interferon.
Targeted therapies attempt to interfere with the growth of the tumor by blocking the formation of new blood vessels around the tumor. Medications include brotezomib (with or without ponatinib) or carfilzomib.
The choice and combination of drugs is determined by the stage and type of the disease, as well as factors like your age, overall health, and kidney function. Drugs used to treat multiple myeloma include:
Chemotherapy for multiple myeloma is usually given through an IV, but some forms can be given by mouth. It is delivered in cycles over a set period of time. A medical oncologist will determine how many cycles of chemotherapy are needed and what combination of drugs will work best. It is likely that a relapse will occur after treatment. If so, the combination of chemotherapy drugs be changed.
Side Effects and Management
Though the drugs are targeted to cancer cells, they can affect healthy cells as well. The death of cancer cells and impact on healthy cells can cause a range of side effects. A medical oncologist will work to find the best drug combination and dosage to have the most impact on the cancer cells and minimal side effects on healthy tissue. Side effects or complications from chemotherapy may include:
A variety of treatments are available to help manage side effects including medication, lifestyle changes, and alternative treatments. In some cases, the chemotherapy regimen may be adjusted to reduce severe side effects. The earlier the side effects are addressed, the more likely they will be controlled with a minimum of discomfort. Long-term side effects can include damage to the heart, kidneys, lungs, other bone marrow cancers, and some cognitive dysfunction.
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Last reviewed March 2017 by Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 5/13/2016
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