Myeloma is cancer of the plasma cells, a type of white cell found primarily in bone marrow. A cancerous plasma cell doesn’t make the normal antibodies that help fight infection. Furthermore, as the cancer cells multiply, they crowd out those that do, as well as the other types of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
Cancer treatment has advanced dramatically from decades ago, and one of the improvements is in the understanding and avoidance of side effects of cancer treatment.
An illustration: I had a dear friend who nearly died of cancer in the 1960s, and one of his most vivid memories of that period of his life is how absolutely miserable he was when undergoing chemotherapy-terrible nausea, vomiting, like the worst stomach flu one could have. I’ve heard similar horror stories from other folks as well.
Fast forward to the present. I have a close friend who is one of the leading oncologists in the country. He has kind of a fun little tradition in his office. It stems from the common practice of drug salesmen to deliver big carryout lunches to doctors and their staff in order to get their foot in the door to pitch their products. My friend got in the habit of giving this free food to whichever patients happened to be in the office at the time instead. Then he figured, why limit it to days when a salesman brings food? So now he just has lunch delivered every day as a treat for his patients.
He says: “What this did is it made the office and getting chemotherapy a pleasant experience. It also got rid of the myth that you’re going to get sick and nauseated with chemotherapy. I have some patients that will schedule their chemotherapy around what’s for lunch. They’ll call up and ask ‘Is it Chinese day?’ It helped because patients that came to see me in the office that were scared about getting chemotherapy, I could say ‘Look back there. Do you see anyone miserable or throwing up?’ And they’d look back there, and they could see people eating lunch.”
There are many different treatments used for myeloma today. These include radiation therapy, chemotherapy (melphalan, cyclophosphamide, vincristine, doxorubicin, liposomal doxorubicin, and others), stem cell transplants, bortezomib, thalidomide (yeah, the one that caused all the birth defects-now it’s approved for far more limited purposes), lenalidomide, and corticosteroids.
While the side effects are not as frequent or severe as they once were, that doesn’t mean there are never any side effects. What side effects are possible will vary from treatment to treatment. Mainly it depends on how the treatment fights cancer. Some treatments lower the levels of healthy blood cells as a byproduct of attacking the cancer cells. These treatments will tend to have side effects related to that phenomenon, such as making the patient more prone to infections, or bruising or bleeding more readily. Other treatments can kill the cells in hair roots, so of course the side effect there is hair loss. Other treatments can affect the cells that line the digestive tract, which will then have a different set of possible side effects.
So the specifics vary, but among the side effects that can sometimes occur as a result of treating myeloma are:
* Achiness throughout the body
* Low platelet count and/or red cell count and/or white cell count
* Mouth sores
* Numbness in the limbs and extremities
* Upset stomach and vomiting
Again, nowadays there is sufficient knowledge and there are sufficient options that your doctor should be able to minimize the risk and severity of side effects. But that’s not to say they’ve been eliminated entirely.
“Chemotherapy drugs for myeloma and their side effects.” Cancer Help UK.
“Multiple Myeloma.” Mayo Clinic.
“Multiple Myeloma.” Medicine Net.
“Myeloma.” The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.