What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Cytotoxic means toxic to cells. These drugs affect the way cancer cells grow and divide, but they also affect normal cells.

Chemotherapy for myeloma

Chemotherapy is one of the main treatments for myeloma. It is usually given with targeted therapy drugs and steroids.

Chemotherapy drugs used to treat myeloma include:

Some of the drug combinations you may have include:

You usually have your treatment as an outpatient. Sometimes you may need to spend a few days in hospital.

Your treatment may be given over a few weeks, which makes up a cycle of treatment. You may need 4 to 6 cycles. The complete course of treatment usually takes a few months to finish. It depends on which treatments you are having and how well the myeloma responds to the drugs. Your doctor or nurse will explain more about this.

Chemotherapy before a stem cell transplant

If you are having intensive treatment the first stage is called induction chemotherapy. You have a few cycles of treatment to put the myeloma into remission. Remission is when there are few or no signs of the myeloma cells.

Depending on how well the chemotherapy works, you go on to have a stem cell transplant. This means you have much higher doses of chemotherapy than usual. You will be in hospital for several weeks until you recover from the side effects.

How chemotherapy is given

There are different ways of giving chemotherapy. Some chemotherapy drugs for myeloma are taken tablets or capsules. Others are given by injection into a vein (intravenously). The nurse gives you chemotherapy drugs into a vein by injection or as a drip (infusion). It can be given through:

  • a cannula – a short, thin tube put into a vein in your arm or the back of your hand
  • a central line – a long, thin tube inserted into a vein in your chest
  • a PICC line put into a vein in the arm and threaded through to a vein in the chest
  • an implantable port (portacath) that is put into a vein, with an opening (port) under the skin on your chest or arm.

Lines and ports can stay in place during your treatment and can be used to take blood samples.

Side effects

Chemotherapy drugs cause side effects. But there are usually ways these can be controlled. Your doctor or nurse will give you information about the likely side effects of your treatment. They will also tell you what can be done to control and manage side effects.

We have more information about the side effects of chemotherapy.