Stopping treatment for multiple myeloma may increase your symptoms and shorten your life. You may choose to stop treatment because of side effects or because treatment is no longer controlling the cancer.

Multiple myeloma causes your body to make too many abnormal plasma cells in your bone marrow. Healthy plasma cells fight infections. In multiple myeloma, these cells grow abnormally and reproduce too quickly.

The goal of multiple myeloma treatment is to kill off the abnormal cells so the healthy blood cells have more room to grow in your bone marrow. Multiple myeloma treatment can involve:

  • radiation
  • surgery
  • chemotherapy
  • targeted therapy
  • stem cell transplant

The first treatment you’ll receive is called induction therapy. It’s meant to kill as many cancer cells as possible. Later, you’ll have maintenance therapy to stop the cancer from growing again.

All these treatments can have side effects. Chemotherapy can cause hair loss, nausea, and vomiting. Radiation can lead to red, blistered skin. Targeted therapy can lower the number of white blood cells in your body, increasing your risk of infections.

If you have side effects from your treatment or you don’t think it’s working, don’t just stop taking it. Stopping your treatment too early could pose real risks. Here are five risks of stopping multiple myeloma treatment.

Treating multiple myeloma usually requires multiple therapies. After the first phase of treatment, most people will start maintenance therapy, which can last for years.

Staying on a treatment long term has its downsides, such as side effects, repeated tests, and an ongoing medication routine. But the definite upside is that staying on treatment can help you live longer.

Even if you feel well, you may have a few stray cancer cells left in your body. Indeed, many people who appear to have no remaining signs of disease will experience a relapse and have a small amount of myeloma cells in their body. This is known as minimal residual disease (MRD).

However, researchers say it is difficult to define “minimal.”

Your doctor will test for MRD by ordering a flow cytometry test, which counts the number of abnormal cells present in your blood.

Regular counts of your multiple myeloma cells can give your doctor an idea of how long your remission might last and when a relapse might happen. Performing this test every 3 months or so will help your doctor catch any stray cancer cells and treat them before they can multiply.

There’s more than one way to treat multiple myeloma and more than one doctor available to guide you through treatment. If you’re unhappy with your treatment team or the medication you’re taking, seek a second opinion or ask about trying another drug.

Even if your cancer comes back after your first treatment, it’s possible that another therapy will help shrink or slow your cancer. By stopping treatment, you’re passing up an opportunity to find the drug or approach that could finally put your cancer to rest.

When cancer grows, it pushes into other organs and tissues in your body. This invasion can cause symptoms throughout your body.

Multiple myeloma also damages bone marrow, the spongy area inside bones where blood cells are made. As cancer grows inside your bone marrow, it can weaken your bones to the point that they break. Fractures can be extremely painful.

Unmanaged multiple myeloma can also lead to symptoms such as:

  • an increased risk of infections due to lowered white blood cell counts
  • shortness of breath due to anemia
  • serious bruising or bleeding due to low platelets
  • extreme thirst, constipation, and frequent urination due to high levels of calcium in your blood
  • weakness and numbness from nerve damage caused by collapsed bones in your spine

By slowing the cancer, you’ll reduce your risk of having symptoms. Even if your treatment is no longer hindering or stopping your cancer, it may help manage the side effects and keep you comfortable. Treatment aimed at symptom relief is called palliative care.

It’s understandable for you to become exhausted by your treatment or its side effects. But if you continue your treatment, your chances of surviving multiple myeloma are better than they’ve ever been before.

Back in the 1990s, the average 5-year survival rate for someone with multiple myeloma was about 30%. Today, it’s more than 50%. For people who get a diagnosis early, it’s over 70%.

Below are some commonly asked questions about stopping treatment for multiple myeloma.

How long can you live without myeloma treatment?

The survival time without treatment for multiple myeloma can vary greatly depending on individual factors such as your overall health, your age, and the aggressiveness of the disease.

Without treatment, multiple myeloma typically progresses more quickly, leading to complications and potentially a shortened life span.

According to the American Cancer Society, the current 5-year relative survival rate for multiple myeloma is 57%.

What happens when you stop taking Revlimid?

If you stop taking Revlimid, your condition could worsen or you could experience more symptoms.

It’s important to talk with your doctor before you stop taking Revlimid. They may recommend that you switch to a different medication.

What are the signs of end stage multiple myeloma?

Some signs of end stage multiple myeloma are:

  • bone pain
  • kidney failure
  • marrow failure
  • infection

What happens if you don’t have treatment for multiple myeloma?

If you don’t have treatment for multiple myeloma, you may have more symptoms, lower quality of life, and a lower chance of survival.

Treating cancer is never easy. You’ll have to go through many doctor visits, tests, and therapies. This could last for years. But if you stick with your treatment for the long term, your odds of successful treatment are better than they’ve ever been.

If you’re having difficulty with your treatment program, talk with your doctor and the other members of your medical team. There may be medications to help manage your side effects or other treatments you can try that will be easier for you to tolerate.