Your treatment plan will depend on the type and stage of cancer, the spread of the disease, and your basic health and preferences.
Stem cell (bone marrow) transplantation
During a stem cell transplant, stem cells are collected from the patient’s blood, and then the patient is treated with high doses of chemotherapy. The stem cells are then returned to the patient via an infusion into the bloodstream (like a blood transfusion) to rescue the bone marrow from the effects of the high doses of chemotherapy. This procedure has been found to have a positive response and is relatively safe for many patients. However, stem cell transplantation is not appropriate for all patients, and it is not a cure for myeloma.
Immunotherapy, or biotherapy, uses the body’s immune system to help fight diseases, such as blood cancer. It can work directly with your body’s immune system to stop or slow the growth of cancer cells. Or it can indirectly prepare your immune system to destroy or attack cancer cells.
Biologic therapies include substances made by the body or in a lab. In most cases, you will receive a shot of immunotherapy directly into a vein over the course of a few hours. The biologic agent will be injected near the location of the cancer.
The side effects of immunotherapy depend on the agent used, and they vary from person to person. These therapies often cause a rash or swelling in the injection site. They may also cause headaches, muscle aches, fever, and weakness.
CAR T-cell therapy
Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is a type of immunotherapy that uses a patient’s own genetically modified T cells to find and kill cancer cells.
T cells are a type of white blood cell that can fight infection and disease. When a T cell recognizes something as a threat, like a cell infected by a virus, it attacks and destroys it to help keep the body healthy. The goal of CAR T-cell therapy is to direct T cells to cancer cells instead of cells that are infected.
During CAR T-cell therapy, a patient’s own T cells are extracted and genetically modified to recognize a protein on the surface of the cancer cells. Once the cells are modified, they’re also multiplied to increase in number over the course of two to three weeks.
The modified T cells are then infused back into the patient so that they can identify and destroy cancer cells. Because CAR T-cell therapy can cause serious side effects, patients remain in the hospital for one to two weeks following the infusion for monitoring.
Your physician may choose chemotherapy as a part of your individualized treatment plan. Chemotherapy works to shrink tumor cells and can be taken orally in pill form or intravenously.
Your treatment team will choose from a wide variety of chemotherapy drugs to target your specific cancer.
Chemotherapy can cause many side effects, including nausea, vomiting, and hair loss. These side effects can vary depending on the type and dose of drugs that are used. Other medications may be prescribed to help alleviate these symptoms.
Radiation oncology doctors use radiation treatments, also referred to as radiation therapy, to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. The radiation energy injures or destroys cells in the target tissue, making it impossible for these cells to continue to grow and divide.