Radiation therapy for multiple myeloma
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. It is rarely used to treat multiple myeloma. Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan the type and amount of radiation, and when and how it is given. You may also receive other treatments.
Radiation therapy is given for different reasons. You may have radiation therapy to:
- destroy myeloma cells, as the main treatment for solitary plasmacytoma of the bone or extramedullary plasmacytoma
- prevent a bone fracture (break) or spinal cord compression, a serious medical emergency that may lead to paralysis if not treated – both radiation therapy and surgery may be used to treat spinal cord compression in people with multiple myeloma
- relieve pain or control the symptoms of advanced multiple myeloma (called palliative therapy)
External beam radiation therapy
During external beam radiation therapy, a machine directs radiation through the skin to the tumour and some of the tissue around it.
External beam radiation therapy may also be given to the entire body in preparation for a stem cell transplant. This is called total body irradiation. Giving radiation therapy before a stem cell transplant used to be more common but is rarely used today.
Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for multiple myeloma, but everyone’s experience is different. Some people have many side effects. Other people have few or none at all.
During radiation therapy, the healthcare team protects healthy cells in the treatment area as much as possible. But damage to these healthy cells can happen and may cause side effects. Side effects can happen any time during, immediately after or a few days or weeks after radiation therapy. Sometimes late side effects develop months or years after radiation therapy. Most side effects go away on their own or can be treated, but some side effects may last a long time or become permanent.
Side effects of radiation therapy will depend mainly on the size of the area being treated, the specific area or organs being treated, the total dose of radiation and the treatment schedule. Some common side effects of radiation therapy used for multiple myeloma are:
Tell your healthcare team if you have these side effects or others you think might be from radiation therapy. The sooner you tell them of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you deal with them.
Questions to ask about radiation therapy
Great progress has been made
Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.