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What Multiple Myeloma Remission Really Means

Get the must-know facts about multiple myeloma remission—and what it means for your health.

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Medically reviewed in May 2022

Updated on May 20, 2022

Hitting remission is undeniably amazing news. It means that not only is your cancer undetectable (or close to undetectable), but many of your symptoms will dissipate. Remission for people with multiple myeloma, which is not considered curable, can be a bit more complicated than it is for other cancer patients. Here’s what you need to know.

What is remission?
First, the basics: Being in remission is not the same as being cured.

There are two types of remission: Partial and full. In a partial remission, some tests—such as blood tests, MRI scans, or x-rays—may still show that you have some cancer cells present within your body. However, any tumors from your multiple myeloma will have shrunk and you will have fewer cancer cells present. You may still experience some symptoms. Only in full remission is your cancer, and any related symptoms, completely undetectable.

A cure, in contrast, occurs when there are no cancerous cells present following treatment and the cancer will not come back. This situation does not occur with multiple myeloma: Even when patients are in remission, the cancer can still potentially return. The goal, therefore, is to extend the length of remission, so that there are a long gaps between treatment. If your cancer does return, it will be referred to as relapsed multiple myeloma or recurrent myeloma.

Many people with multiple myeloma go on to live for several years with few (or no) symptoms and a good quality of life. Since the average age for multiple myeloma diagnosis is 70, they often die of other, unrelated health conditions common to older adults.

Living in multiple myeloma remission
Multiple myeloma remission can bring with it great emotional uncertainty: “I find the inability to work, plan, predict, or financially map out a future a separate ‘disease,’” writes one patient in remission on the Myeloma Beacon online forums. 

Along with complicated emotions, remission can also be accompanied by physical symptoms, whether they are lingering effects from cancer or its treatment, or side effects from maintenance therapy. During remission, your doctor may prescribe medications to strengthen bones, which are typically weakened by multiple myeloma.

Depending on your situation and your type of remission, it can feel like a return to normal life or an extended period of limbo. In either situation, feeling in control can be a challenge. Some recommendations:

  • Keep up with treatment and appointments. The two best steps you can take are continuing to go to scheduled doctor’s appointments and undergoing tests (blood, imaging, urine) as recommended by your doctor. These will help you and your healthcare team catch any changes to the disease early on.
  • Maintain your emotional and physical health. This means practicing self-care, eating healthily, getting enough rest, and making exercise part of your routine.

How long will your remission last?
Perhaps every person who has multiple myeloma and reaches remission—whether partial or full—is eager for an answer to that question. But there is no simple formula for predicting how long you will stay in remission. It can depend on the stage of your cancer, how well you responded to the treatment, and other factors.

Article sources open article sources

National Cancer Institute. Understanding Cancer Prognosis. June 17, 2019. Accessed May 19, 2022.
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Myeloma Guide: Information for Patients and Caregivers. 2020. Accessed May 19, 2022.
Merck Manual: Consumer Version. Multiple Myeloma. November 2021. Accessed May 19, 2022.
Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. Our mission: cure multiple myeloma. 2022. Accessed May 19, 2022.
HealthTree Foundation. Multiple Myeloma Remission. 2021. Accessed May 20, 2022.
International Myeloma Foundation. The future looks bright—including a cure for myeloma. May 2. 2019. Accessed May 20, 2022.
Cancer.net. Multiple Myeloma: Risk Factors. August 2021. Accessed May 20, 2022.
American Cancer Society. Survival Rates for Multiple Myeloma. March 2, 2022. Accessed May 20, 2022.
Myeloma Beacon. Remission, what does it mean? 2013. Accessed May 20, 2022.

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