Chemotherapy kills cells that divide rapidly, such as cancer cells, but the drugs can also harm normal cells that divide rapidly, including bone marrow cells, the cells in hair roots, mucosal cells, and skin cells.
Chemotherapy drugs used to treat multiple myeloma may include melphalan, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, cisplatin, etoposide and bendamustine.
— Typical side effects include a weakened immune system and greater risk of infection, as well as hair loss, mucositis (inflammation of the smooth mucosal tissue inside the mouth and other areas of the body), diarrhea, nausea and rash.
High-dose chemotherapy may be an option for some patients. It is more effective than conventional chemotherapy (which is given in lower doses), but it damages the bone marrow, which produces new blood cells. To overcome that problem, your own (autologous) blood stem cells can be collected in advance, stored in a freezer, and given back to you after the high-dose chemotherapy has destroyed most of the cancer cells in your system. (When this technique was first developed, the bone marrow itself was collected and later reinfused, or given back to the patient, but today stem cells can be stimulated to multiply in the bone marrow until they enter the bloodstream, where they can be collected through a process very much like donating blood.)
Steroids can trigger the death of multiple myeloma cells and are part of nearly every combination treatment. Prednisone and dexamethasone are two types of steroids.
— Typical side effects increased risk of infection, sleeplessness and facial flushing.