Why Remission Doesn’t Mean Treatment Is Over

When it comes to multiple myeloma, entering remission doesn’t necessarily signal an end to treatment.

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Medically reviewed in April 2021

Despite huge advances in treatment protocols in recent years, multiple myeloma remains, unfortunately, an incurable disease. What does that mean for people with this form of cancer? Remission remains good news, but it does not mean an end to treatment or doctor visits. Doctors will continue with follow-up care, both to ensure the disease hasn’t returned and to manage any side effects from the cancer or treatment.

Here’s more information on what to expect during remission.

Monitoring for symptoms
As with any cancer, monitoring for a recurrence is essential. Your doctor—or team of doctors—will set up regular appointments. Here’s what you should expect:

  • Physical examination: Doctors will spend some time discussing how you feel and try to see if you’re feeling any symptoms, either due to a recurrence or treatment.
  • Blood tests: These tests are used to check M-protein levels (which indicate the return of multiple myeloma), along with other key signs.
  • Imaging tests: CT scans and x-rays are used to detect tumors. Plus, since multiple myeloma has such a profound effect on bone health, they can also reveals breaks or weak spots.

Note that you will not receive tests at every appointment; you can expect bone marrow evaluation every one to three months, for instance, and blood and other tests will be performed periodically.

Your doctor may also share a list of symptoms to watch for that could indicate a relapse. Watch for dizziness (which could be a sign of anemia), bone pain, signs of an infection and swelling, tingling or numbness in your feet and legs.

Treatment side effects and related conditions
Cancer is hard on your body, but so is treatment. And, many of the complications and side effects can linger even when you are no longer actively being treated. During doctor visits, share any symptoms or changes that you observe—this will help your doctor recommend strategies to handle lingering side effects.

If you received radiation, doctors may recommend thyroid tests, electrocardiograms and mammography, depending on the location of your radiation therapy.

Maintenance therapy
The biggest goal of maintenance therapy is to prevent a recurrence of cancer. The treatment can take the form of chemotherapy or targeted therapy. A review in Blood Cancer Journal examined the effectiveness of common forms of maintenance therapy used with multiple myeloma. Maintenance therapy is intended to improve overall survival and progression-free survival rates, and the review found that it was effective at meeting those goals, concluding, “...we recommend the choice of maintenance therapy be guided by patient preference, toxicity profile and risk-stratification of disease.”

Follow-up care is essential
As you can see, follow-up care for your multiple myeloma is essential, and should not be neglected. Follow the advice of your doctors about scheduling tests and appointments.

Medically reviewed in October 2018.

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