Radiation therapy is a treatment option used to alleviate symptoms of myeloma-related bone disease and to treat solitary plasmacytomas (tumors formed from abnormal plasma cells).
Radiation therapy (RT) is a common type of cancer treatment that works by using high-energy waves or particles to damage DNA in cancer cells. The treatment prevents these cells from growing and dividing, which causes them to die.
It’s estimated that
How multiple myeloma affects your bones
Multiple myeloma happens when plasma cells in the bone marrow become abnormal, growing and dividing uncontrollably.
The effects of multiple myeloma can damage your bones, leading to pain and an increased risk of breaking. When bones in your spine are affected, the myeloma can lead to compression of your spinal cord and surrounding nerves, which can cause:
Discover more about multiple myeloma.
Doctors use RT to alleviate symptoms of multiple myeloma and prevent the complications that may occur from bone disease.
Treatments that focus on easing symptoms and improving quality of life are called “palliative care.”
RT is also commonly used to treat solitary plasmacytomas. Solitary plasmacytomas occur when abnormal plasma cells form a tumor, often in a bone.
Unlike multiple myeloma, in which many tumors are present, people with solitary plasmacytomas have only a single tumor. It’s estimated that 65% to 84% of solitary plasmacytomas in bone progress to multiple myeloma in 10 years.
Can radiation cause multiple myeloma?
Having RT may boost your risk of developing a second cancer later. However, a 2021 review notes that older research shows only a small amount of second cancers, about 8%, are related to RT.
The RT used for multiple myeloma is called “
Where do I receive radiation therapy?
External beam RT is given at a hospital or cancer treatment center. The therapy is typically an outpatient procedure, which means that you return home between treatments.
How often do I receive radiation therapy?
RT is given in a series of fractions as opposed to one dose, which helps to limit the damage to healthy cells that are close to the treatment site.
Many people receive external beam RT
How long does radiation therapy last?
The total treatment time can be
What happens during a treatment session?
Depending on the area being treated, you may be asked to undress or put on a hospital gown. The areas of your body not receiving treatment will be shielded to protect them from radiation.
The process of receiving external beam RT is painless. You’ll be asked to lie down on a treatment table or to sit in a special chair and remain very still.
The doctor will go to an adjacent room to operate the machine that delivers the radiation, but you can still communicate with them through the intercom.
While delivering the radiation itself only takes a few minutes, your appointment may last up to
The main benefits of RT for multiple myeloma include:
- relief of symptoms related to bone disease
- prevention of serious complications that can happen due to spinal compression
- management of solitary plasmacytomas
RT does come with some potential side effects, such as:
- skin changes at the area treated, such as redness, peeling, or blistering
- hair loss in the area being treated
- low blood counts, which can lead to:
Often, these side effects go away after you finish RT. A doctor can give you a better idea of what to expect with your specific RT regimen.
RT leads to positive outcomes as a type of palliative care for multiple myeloma. For example, a small 2020 study found that, compared with those who didn’t receive RT, having RT was associated with
A 2016 study of 238 people with multiple myeloma affecting their spine found that
A 2019 study of 88 people with multiple myeloma affecting their spine found that people reported some pain relief after RT
Out of the 35 people who had what the 2019 study referred to as “neurological impairments,” RT improved these symptoms 83% of the time. These neurological impairments included weakness, numbness and tingling, and trouble walking.
A 2018 review notes that RT can provide local control of solitary plasmacytomas in 85% to 90% of cases, but it’s still possible for solitary plasmacytomas to recur or for multiple myeloma to develop in the future.
The recurrence is echoed by the findings of a 2020 study of RT for solitary plasmacytomas in 42 people. The
In addition to RT, other potential treatments for multiple myeloma include:
- chemotherapy, which uses drugs to disrupt the growth and division of cancer cells
- stem cell transplant in which cells in the bone marrow are destroyed and then replaced with healthy stem cells
- targeted therapy, which uses drugs that target specific markers in or on cancer cells
- immunotherapy, which helps your immune system to respond to myeloma and can include:
- corticosteroids, which have antitumor effects for multiple myeloma
- bisphosphonates, which help slow down myeloma-related damage to bones
- surgery to remove solitary plasmacytomas or to support weakened bones
RT is one of several treatments used for multiple myeloma. It’s typically used as palliative care for myeloma-related bone disease with the goal of easing symptoms and preventing complications. RT can also be used to treat solitary plasmacytomas.
If RT is recommended as a part of your multiple myeloma treatment plan, you’ll receive it via external beam RT. The specifics of your RT therapy, such as the radiation dose and number of sessions, will depend on your specific situation.
RT can have several benefits for multiple myeloma, but it’s also linked to a variety of side effects. If RT is recommended as a part of your multiple myeloma treatment plan, you may want to have an open conversation with a doctor about its benefits and drawbacks.