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Treatment for Multiple Myeloma

The goal of treatment for multiple myeloma is to relieve symptoms, avoid complications and prolong life. People with mild disease or an uncertain diagnosis are usually carefully watched without treatment. Some people have a slow developing form of multiple myeloma that takes years to cause symptoms.

Medications

Medications for the treatment of multiple myeloma include:

  • Dexamethasone, melphalan, cyclophosphamide, doxil, thalidomide, lenalidomide (Revlimid) and bortezomib (Velcade) used alone or in combination
  • Biphosphonates (pamidronate) to reduce bone pain and prevent fractures

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy may be used to relieve bone pain or treat a bone tumor.

Bone Marrow Transplant

Two types of bone marrow transplantation may be tried:

  • Autologous bone marrow or stem cell transplantation using your own stem cells, which has been shown to increase survival in younger patient
  • Allogeneic transplantation using stem cells from another person, a treatment that carries risks but offers the chance of a cure

What is Multiple Myeloma?

Plasma cells help your body fight infection by producing proteins called antibodies.

In multiple myeloma, plasma cells grow out of control in the bone marrow and form tumors in areas of solid bone. The growth of these tumors makes it harder for bone marrow to make healthy blood cells and platelets.

Multiple myeloma mainly affects older adults. Past treatment with radiation therapy raises your risk for this type of cancer.

Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma causes anemia, which makes you more likely to get infections and have abnormal bleeding. As the cancer cells grow in the bone marrow, you may develop bone or back pain, most often in the ribs or back. If the bones in the spine are affected, it can cause pressure on the nerves, resulting in numbness or weakness of the arms or legs.

Other symptoms of multiple myeloma include:

  • bleeding problems
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath due to anemia
  • unexplained broken bones
  • fevers without any other cause

If you have multiple myeloma, be sure to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and help maintain proper kidney function. You should also be cautious when having x-ray tests that use contrast dye.

How is Multiple Myeloma Diagnosed?

Blood Tests

Doctors use blood tests to help diagnose multiple myeloma, including blood tests to check calcium level, total protein level and kidney function; complete blood count; blood and urine tests to identify proteins or antibodies (immunofixation); blood tests to quickly and accurately measure the specific level of certain proteins called immunoglobulins (nephelometry); and others.

Bone X-rays

Bone x-rays may show fractures or hollowed out areas of bone, and bone density testing may show bone loss. Your doctor may also order a bone marrow biopsy.