Understanding Multiple Myeloma: Explore Your Options
If you’ve been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, it’s important to explore all options related to multiple myeloma treatment. Below, learn what’s next, what questions to ask the doctor, and what treatments are available.
Finding an Oncologist
The first step on the multiple myeloma treatment journey is to find an oncologist (medical or surgical) who inspires trust. It may seem overwhelming to choose an oncologist. First, start with referrals from your primary care physician, specialist, or insurance carrier. Talk to family and friends who may have recommendations.
Here are some things to consider when choosing an oncologist:
- Is the oncologist board certified?
- How much experience does he or she have in treating multiple myeloma?
- Do you feel comfortable talking with this doctor? Does he or she listen well?
- Is the staff compassionate? Is the environment a good one or do you feel rushed?
- What hospital(s) does this oncologist see patients in?
- What are the office hours?
- What if you have an emergency? Can you call?
- Can this doctor be contacted after hours?
You will be spending a lot of time with the oncologist and staff nurses and technicians, so it’s important to feel comfortable with them.
As you and your doctor explore the treatment options open to you, make sure you find out the answers to the following:
- What do we do if the cancer comes back or the treatment doesn’t work?
- What are the side effects of this treatment plan?
- How is treatment administered?
- How long is this treatment plan?
- How will my life be affected by this treatment?
Choosing a Cancer Center
Choosing where to receive treatment is just as important as selecting an oncologist. Some questions to ask before choosing where to get your treatment include:
- Volume: How many multiple myeloma patients to they treat annually?
- Travel: How far do you want to travel? Would there be extra costs?
- Cost: Is the hospital covered by your insurance plan?
- Accreditations: What accreditations does the hospital hold?
It’s helpful to understand the possible treatments for multiple myeloma. Following are overviews of the most common treatments. Reading these should help you know what to expect, what the potential side effects are, and what the advantages are to each.
Your treatment plan depends on how advanced your disease is and whether you have symptoms. For instance, if you have:
Smoldering myeloma: you may not need treatment right away. Your doctor will monitor your health closely. This is called watchful waiting. Treatment can start when you begin to have symptoms.
Stages I, II or III: If you have symptoms, you will probably get induction therapy and you may be considered for a stem cell transplant.
There are several treatment options for people with multiple myeloma:
- Watchful waiting
- Induction Therapy
- Stem cell transplant
- Supportive care therapies
Your doctor can describe your treatment options and possible side effects to each. You and your doctor will work together to develop a treatment plan that meets your needs.
Your doctor may refer you to a specialist, or you may ask for a referral. Specialists who treat multiple myeloma include hematologists and medical oncologists. Your care team may also include an oncology nurse, a registered dietician, and a social worker.
Often, myeloma is not cured. However, treatment can keep the cancer in remission. You may want to consider participating in a clinical trial.
Specific Questions to Ask Your Doctor
You may want to ask your doctor these questions before you begin treatment:
Before starting any treatment, you may want to ask your doctor:
- What stage of myeloma do I have?
- Is the disease affecting my kidneys?
- Is the disease affecting my bones?
- How do I get a copy of the report from the pathologist?
- What are my treatment choices? Which do you recommend for me? Why?
- Will I have more than one kind of treatment? How will my treatment change over time?
- What are the expected benefits of each kind of treatment?
- What are the risks and possible side effects of each treatment? What can we do to control the side effects?
- What can I do to prepare for treatment?
- Will I need to stay in the hospital? If so, for how long?
- What is the treatment likely to cost? Will my insurance cover the cost?
- How will treatment affect my normal activities?
- Would a clinical trial be right for me? Can you help me find one?
- How often should I have checkups?