Multiple Myeloma

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Treating Multiple Myeloma TOPICS

Radiation therapy for multiple myeloma

Radiation therapy uses focused high-energy x-rays or particles that penetrate the tissues of the body to reach and destroy cancer cells. Radiation may be used to treat areas of bone damaged by myeloma that have not responded to chemotherapy and are causing pain. It’s also the most common treatment for solitary plasmacytomas.

If myeloma severely weakens the vertebral (back) bones, these bones can collapse and put pressure on the spinal cord and spinal nerves. Symptoms include a sudden change in sensation (such as numbness or tingling), sudden weakness of leg muscles, or sudden problems with urination or moving the bowels. This is a medical emergency; patients with these symptoms should call their doctor right away. Prompt treatment with radiation therapy and/or surgery is often needed to prevent paralysis.

The type of radiation therapy most often used to treat multiple myeloma or solitary plasmacytoma is called external beam radiation therapy. The radiation is aimed at the cancer from a machine outside the body. Having radiation therapy is much like having a diagnostic x-ray except that each treatment lasts longer, and the course of treatment can continue for several weeks.

Side effects of radiation can include:

  • Skin changes in the area being treated, which can range from redness to blistering and peeling
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea (if the belly or pelvis is being treated)
  • Low blood counts

These symptoms improve once treatment is over.

For more information about radiation therapy and its side effects, see our document Understanding Radiation Therapy: A Guide for Patients and Families.

Last Medical Review: 05/22/2014
Last Revised: 01/19/2016