At MD Anderson, we help patients with multiple myeloma by offering a variety of treatments, as well as a range of clinical trials (research studies) of newer drugs and therapies. Our myeloma experts work closely with you to tailor the treatments that will best fight the disease, while focusing on your quality of life.
While treatments usually do not cure multiple myeloma, we can improve the quality of life and health of many patients by decreasing the disease and its symptoms for extended periods.
Advanced Treatment Options
For years, the standard approach to multiple myeloma has been high-dose chemotherapy to wipe out the bone marrow and the blood supply, often followed by a stem cell transplant. But MD Anderson is among a select few centers that are pioneering newer options that have less impact on your body. Many patients are having remarkable success.
These options include immunotherapy to help your body fight the cancer and new methods for stem cell transplantation. In addition, we are actively pursuing answers to reducing the side effects of multiple myeloma and its treatment. For instance, we were instrumental in finding that bisphosphates often can decrease bone-related events in multiple myeloma.
Multiple Myeloma Treatments
If you are diagnosed with multiple myeloma, your doctor will discuss the best options to treat it. This depends on several factors, including the type and stage of the cancer and your general health.
Your treatment for multiple myeloma will be customized to your particular needs. One or more of the following therapies may be recommended to treat the cancer or help relieve symptoms.
Drug therapy is the usual starting point in treating multiple myeloma. MD Anderson offers the most up-to-date and advanced chemotherapy options. Liposomal drug delivery is an innovative method that can help chemotherapy be more effective.
MD Anderson is among just a few cancer centers in the nation that are able to offer targeted therapies for some types of multiple myeloma. These innovative new drugs stop the growth of cancer cells by interfering with certain proteins and receptors or blood vessels that supply the cancer with what it needs to grow.
Possibilities may include:
- Monoclonal antibodies, including Rituxan® (Rituximab)
- Biological therapies that develop antibodies to destroy cancer cells
- Proteasome inhibitors, such as bortezomib (Velcade®)
- Immune modulators, such as thalidomide and lenalidomide, that modify the environment of the tumor cell and allow it to die
- Small molecule treatment, such as panobinostat
- Cytokine therapies
- Vaccine therapy
- Bisphosphonates help reduce high calcium levels and decrease the risk of bone fracture
This usually is used to treat a specific area where there is bone destruction and pain. Radiation can destroy cancer cells more quickly than chemotherapy and has fewer side effects. For this reason, it often is used to get quicker pain relief and control severe bone loss.
Stem Cell Transplants
If a stem cell transplant is needed, MD Anderson has one of the most active and advanced programs in the nation.
If abnormal proteins become very high, leading to thickening of the blood, the plasma can be removed and replaced with normal plasma from a healthy donor. This can quickly relieve symptoms of increased blood thickness until chemotherapy/immunotherapy has a chance to destroy the multiple myeloma cells that are responsible for producing the abnormal protein.
This approach involves closely monitoring multiple myeloma without active treatment.
MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering
promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.
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I have an iron-clad immune system -- or so I thought. I was hardly
That is, until 2009 and 2010, when I got the flu. I blamed not getting my flu shot. I also was unusually busy at work and blamed my fatigue, weight loss and fuzzy brain on stress. After having a fever for no apparent reason, I went to an urgent care clinic.
Given my recent weight loss and fatigue, the doctor decided to do some bloodwork. The results showed I was significantly anemic, so he decided to do more blood work. After two weeks of connecting the dots with other lab tests, he told me to come to his office -- and to bring someone with me.
That's when I learned a new term -- multiple myeloma. My doctor explained that this was a form of blood cancer that starts in the bone marrow. I hadn't seen that coming!
I set out to find someone who specialized in treating multiple myeloma. After interviewing doctors at another hospital and MD Anderson, I chose MD Anderson. The doctor I'd met with at MD Anderson was one of the world's premier multiple myeloma oncologists, so I knew I'd be in the best hands. Plus, my sister had started cancer treatment at MD Anderson two years earlier, so I knew MD Anderson well.
My multiple myeloma treatment
I started chemotherapy within a week of my first appointment at MD Anderson. When that didn't work, we tried another treatment.
That, too, had little effect. At that point,I was considered
refractory, which means the multiple myeloma was resistant to
In January 2011, I began a clinical trial using lenolidomide, thalidomide and dexamethasone. These weren't new drugs, but the trial combined them in a new way - one that worked for me. Together, they helped control the multiple myeloma so I could undergo a stem cell transplant. I was thrilled and frightened and very, very hopeful.
On June 2, 2011, I underwent my stem cell transplant and celebrated my rebirthday, as many cancer survivors call it. I spent that summer recovering, and I haven't looked back.
After six months of follow-up visits, I was declared in a stable partial response. The myeloma was contained with the help of daily pills called Revlimid. I asked if I'd ever make it to a complete response. My oncologist said it was unlikely.
"Watch me," I told him.
Eighteen months later, my labwork hadn't shown the multiple myeloma markers in three months. I had achieved a complete response.
My oncologist retired just after he declared my complete response. I say God sent him to me, then let him rest when I was better.
Finding strength and inspiration in other cancer patients
During my multiple myeloma treatment, I had the privilege of talking to many people in waiting rooms and labs. The stories they shared gave me hope, and kept me humble and thankful for every little thing. Especially inspiring were the children I saw. I told myself, if that child can do this, so can I!
Thanks to these people from whom I drew inspiration and strength, I became an advocate for other survivors. I now volunteer with CanCare and myCancerConnection, MD Anderson's one-on-one support program that connects cancer patients and caregivers with others who have been there. This allows me to pay it forward and guide others through multiple myeloma. I try to reassure them that multiple myeloma treatment is much better now with fewer side effects.
I also like to share what I adopted as my mantra during multiple myeloma treatment: "Put on your warrior armor every day."
Cancer, after all, is a battle, and a positive attitude and hope are crucial weapons. So far, I win!
My heartfelt thanks goes to my MD Anderson team who led my fight. I couldn't have done it without them.
Multiple myeloma is one of the one of the areas MD Anderson is focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths. Learn more about our Multiple Myeloma Moon Shot.