Cancer. One of the dictionary’s ugliest and most feared words. For some, this word means the loss of a family member or a good friend. Others remember a dark time at the doctor’s office as he delivers the grim diagnosis. There are others who don’t let this word defeat them and have led meaningful lives despite or because of it. The medical field has had a lot of progress towards new treatment methods since this disease penetrated the awareness of society. Nowadays, being diagnosed with cancer no longer means a definite death sentence. There is now a glimmer of hope and thousands of lives are living testaments to the possibility of recovery. This article will explore 10 methods for treating a specific type of cancer which is multiple myeloma.
Multiple myeloma is cancer of the plasma cells. Plasma cells are found in the bone marrow. These cells are important to the body because it makes antibodies that fight germs. When the body has multiple myeloma, plasma cells multiply uncontrollably and crowds out other types of cells like red blood cells, platelets and white blood cells, all of which are essential for our body to function properly. A healthy person typically has 2 percent plasma cells in his bone marrow but when someone has myeloma, plasma cells make up 10 percent or higher of the cells in the bone marrow. Furthermore, when myeloma enters the bone marrow, they could cause soft spots on the bone known as osteolytic lesions.
Myeloma results in anemia or lack of red blood cells, weakened bone structure, hypercalcemia or high levels of calcium in the blood, and impaired kidney function. Patients will usually experience some if not all of the symptoms like fatigue, bone pain, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite and weight loss, confusion, increased vulnerability to infection, and changes in urinary habits. Fortunately, multiple myeloma is a treatable cancer. According to Cancer.net, there is 47 percent five-year survival rate among multiple myeloma patients. Five-year survival rate is the percentage of patients who survive at least 5 years after being diagnosed with cancer. Of course, treatment will depend on multiple factors such as the results of lab tests, age and general health, preferences of the patient, stage of the disease, and symptoms and complications.
Multiple Myeloma Treatment
The first treatment is observation. Contrary to what people believe, observation is not “doing nothing”. This part of treatment is very important for stage 1 of the disease or for those in remission. Your doctor will simply monitor your condition by conducting regular blood and urine tests.
Bortezomib is given intravenously four times in three weeks. It works by targeting enzymes called proteasomes. Proteasomes digest proteins and since myeloma cells produce a lot of proteins, this will cause them to die. This is usually used as front-line treatment for patients not eligible for stem cell transplant or for those who have relapsed after their first treatment.
Thalidomide is an immunodulatory agent. It works by strengthening the immune system cells to attack the cancer cells. It also interferes with the growth of blood vessels that feed the myeloma cells. Essentially, it starves the cancer cells so it doesn’t grow and reproduce. Thalidomide is administered orally and generally used for newly diagnosed patients.
This drug is also an immunodulatory agent like thalidomide but is more potent and affects both the cancer cell and its microenvironment.
Perhaps the most heard of treatment for cancer, chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. A common misconception people have about chemotherapy is that it can cure cancer. Instead, it may stop the progression of the disease. The treatment is given over a set period of time during which the drug is usually administered intravenously. Since the drugs used in chemotherapy are strong, healthy cells will also be affected which will seriously affects one’s health. Side effects include hair loss, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, low blood counts, and peripheral neuropathy.
Prednisone and dexamethasone are synthetic steroids that can be used regulate the immune system. They can be taken in pill form or intravenously. Steroids are usually taken in combination with chemotherapy drugs.
7. Radiation therapy
This treatment uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. Like chemotherapy, radiation therapy is done over a set period of time. This treatment is recommended for patients with bone pain and to shrink myeloma cells in a specific area of the body. Side effects include fatigue, upset stomach, and loose bowel movement but they disappear after treatment is finished.
Bisphosphonates help bones stay strong by slowing down the myeloma cells’ process of weakening the bones. These drugs are administered intravenously once a month but may be treated less often if there is positive response. One rare side effect though is osteonecrosis of the jaw. This is however prevented by maintaining good oral hygiene and avoiding jaw surgery or tooth extraction while taking a bisphosphonate.
9. Stem Cell Transplants
Blood- forming stem cells are collected from the blood. Then, chemotherapy is used to kill the cells in the diseased bone marrow. The stem cells are then infused into the body to replace the diseased cells with healthy ones. Early side effects of this treatment are similar to chemotherapy, but the most serious side effect is low blood count.
10. Palliative care
An important part of treatment is not only to eliminate the cancer but also to relieve symptoms and side effects. This is known as palliative or supportive care. Treatments may include pain medication, antibiotics for infection, exercise, nutritional changes, meditation and relaxation, acupuncture, and even surgery.
Emotional support is also important during this time for the patient and also his family. It is an undeniable fact that the family of the patient also suffers emotionally from seeing their loved one deteriorate in front of their eyes.
Multiple myeloma is a very serious and painful disease. Treating it also involves a lot of pain and suffering to the patient. But the human spirit is indomitable. As long as there is a chance to extend the time we are given on earth, we take it no matter how hard it takes.
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