Multiple myeloma has no cure. But it is treatable.
The disease occurs in the bone marrow, where blood cells—oxygen-carrying red blood cells, blood-clotting platelet cells, and infection-fighting white blood cells—are made. When someone has myeloma, an abnormality causes plasma cells to reproduce uncontrollably.
After a diagnosis is made, a first line of treatment begins. If a patient’s myeloma is unresponsive, it is said to be “refractory,” and a subsequent line of treatment is required.
Once an effective treatment is found, a patient may eventually go into remission – complete or partial disappearance of the disease’s signs or symptoms. But remission doesn’t last forever. In time, multiple myeloma patients will commonly experience a relapse – a reappearance of the cancer. At this point, a subsequent line of treatment will likely need to be found and administered, because the first line treatment will no longer be effective.
Given that not all myelomas respond to all treatments, and that most multiple myeloma patients relapse, it is incredibly important that there be a variety of treatment options available. Treatment options from chemotherapy to biologically engineered proteasome inhibitors have been made available for patients, and new treatment options are being innovated – including treatments that are specifically engineered for relapsed myeloma.
Read on for some of the currently-available treatment options for multiple myeloma:
Observation: There are cases in which the best course of action for a stable condition is to closely monitor it, in case it gets better or worse, but to take no other actions.
Radiotherapy – Radiation uses high energy x-rays or particles to penetrate the tissues of the body to reach and damage the cancer cells and prevent them from growing.
Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy drugs damage cancer cells, interrupting their ability to divide and grow.
Steroids – Steroids play an important role in treatment of multiple myeloma and have both anti-inflammatory and anti-myeloma effects. They are often used to help reduce the side effects from chemotherapy and other treatment options.
High-Dose Chemotherapy with Stem Cell Transplantation – Before getting a stem cell transplant, a patient will receive high-dose chemotherapy with radiation to kill the cells in the bone marrow – both cancerous and normal. Then, they will receive healthy blood-forming stem cells. The transplanted stem cells will help repopulate the bone marrow
Immunomodulatory Agents – Targeted therapy that is similar to chemotherapy, except that these drugs are biologically engineered to attach themselves to specific protein receptors, rather than the entire system.
Proteasome Inhibitors – Proteasomes are structures in both healthy and abnormal cells whose job is to rid the cell of proteins. Proteasome inhibitors work by blocking that activity, and causing a buildup of proteins, which interferes with cell growth and can kill myeloma cells.
Supportive Treatments – Medications that are used to relieve the symptoms of the multiple myeloma, and the side effects of the drugs being used to fight it. Some might include drugs to manage pain, drugs to protect the bones and increase bone density, drugs to prevent infection, and blood thinners to prevent blood clots, to name a few.
Treating multiple myeloma is an ongoing process that requires close monitoring, and persistence. And while the disease is currently incurable, developments and new treatment options are helping some patients live 10 years or more after diagnosis.