The main goal in the treatment of myeloma is to eliminate or reduce the number of myeloma cells—that is, to stop or slow down the disease. By accomplishing this, the effects of damaging proteins and chemicals released by the myeloma cells will also be improved. The expectation is that with minimizing the amount of myeloma, you will be healthier and feel better.
Many people with myeloma may live full lives for years or decades using the many treatment options and combinations of options available today. While doctors do not yet have a cure for myeloma, some patients with active disease who have treatment are able to enter remission—a period in which most or all signs and symptoms of the disease disappear.
Determining Your Treatment Plan
There is no single standard treatment plan for myeloma. Your doctor will recommend a combination of treatment options for you based on the stage of your myeloma and the effects it’s having on your body. The right treatment for you will also depend on other factors, like your age, your overall health, your lifestyle and whether you’ve had treatment for myeloma in the past.
When you and your doctor are ready to talk about making treatment choices, you will probably discuss whether there are disease processes, symptoms or complications that need to be addressed urgently. In some cases, people with myeloma have health issues related to their disease that need attention right away, such as bone damage or compression of a nerve due to a bone fracture.
There may be other longer-term issues and decisions that you can wait to address later on. Your doctor can talk with you about the timeline for making treatment decisions in your unique situation.
The most common treatment to control myeloma cells is chemotherapy, sometimes followed by a stem cell transplant. Doctors may use radiation therapy to treat an area where you have a tumor or painful bone damage. Surgery is rarely done to remove myeloma tumors. But if you have only one area of myeloma activity (called a plasmacytoma), doctors may try to remove it surgically, or use radiation therapy after a biopsy.
There are many options to treat myeloma complications, such as medicines to reduce the calcium in your blood, procedures to repair bone damage and hemodialysis to filter your blood if your kidneys are not working well.
All of these are offered through Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. You will find information in this section about each of these forms of treatment, as well as new treatments that are available.
UW Medicine physicians who practice at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance are leaders in myeloma research and treatment.
Chemotherapy medicines are distributed throughout the body through the bloodstream. They can help kill cancer cells in the bone marrow and blood, as well as those that may have spread to other areas.
Some people with myeloma receive radiation therapy along with other treatments. Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells.
Some people with myeloma may have high-dose chemotherapy combined with a stem cell transplant. This treatment tends to give the best results in terms of slowing or stopping the disease and prolonging survival in people who are good candidates.
Myeloma can affect your body in many ways. In addition to getting treatment to control the myeloma, you may also need treatment for complications of the disease.
Whether you are starting treatment for the first time or have already had treatment for myeloma and need treatment again, you may be able to take part in studies of new treatments.