Immunotherapy is a newer treatment option that shows promise in managing multiple myeloma effectively. Despite this, the condition remains difficult to treat and cure. However, new trials on immunotherapies may show progress in treatment effectiveness.

Multiple myeloma is a cancer that affects plasma cells, which develop in the bone marrow and play an important role in the immune system. Bone marrow is the spongy tissue that develops in the center of some bones.

Doctors call the condition multiple myeloma because it typically affects several areas of the body. These areas include the spine, pelvis, and ribs. It can also affect other areas such as the skull.

This article discusses the evidence for using immunotherapy to treat multiple myeloma. It also explains the types of immunotherapy and how they work. Finally, it goes over other treatment options for multiple myeloma.

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The first immunotherapy that doctors used to treat conditions, such as multiple myeloma, was an allogeneic stem cell transplant. In the mid-2000s, research showed that types of immunotherapy medications, such as thalidomide and lenalidomide, were effective in treating the condition.

Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that uses a person’s immune system to help kill or remove cancer cells.

A 2020 review states that while immunotherapy has become a cornerstone in the treatment of multiple myeloma, it still has its limitations. According to this review, many of these limitations lie in the inability of the technique to generate functional T cells. Health researchers have shown that T cell exhaustion plays a role in the progression of multiple myeloma.

The first three immunotherapies with approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are all antibody based. However, other immunotherapies are currently in clinical development.

Learn about multiple myeloma symptoms.

There are a few different options for immunotherapy for multiple myeloma.

Allogeneic stem cell transplant

Allogeneic stem cell transplant was the original immunotherapy developed for multiple myeloma. It showed promise in inducing long-term remission of the condition. However, due to the significant risk of infection, graft-versus-host disease — where the donor cells attack the recipient’s healthy cells — and treatment-related mortality, this treatment is no longer in common use. This is partially due to the development of newer immunotherapy treatment options.

CAR T-cell therapy

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is an immunotherapy that uses a person’s own white blood cells to treat multiple myeloma. White blood cells are a part of the body’s natural immune response.

A specific type of white blood cell, called T cells, typically circulates through the body. T cells play an important role in fighting infection and searching for cancer cells. When they find them, the T cells grab onto them and pump toxins into them to kill them. However, cancer cells have found a way to hide from T cells.

CAR T-cell therapy involves the collection of a person’s white blood cells. Healthcare professionals will then modify the blood cells, including the T-cells, in a lab to make them more effective in being able to identify and attach to myeloma cells. They then infuse the modified cells back into the person’s body.

Antibody-drug conjugates

Antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) are antibodies that healthcare professionals combine with cancer-fighting substances. These substances are usually either medications or toxins.

ADCs work by the antibodies attaching to the cancer cells, while the cancer-fighting substance kills the myeloma cells.

There are other types of immunotherapies available through clinical trials. A person can discuss all immunotherapy and treatment options with a doctor.

Immunotherapy is a biological therapy. This means it uses substances that derive from living organisms to help treat diseases.

Immunotherapy helps the body’s immune system fight cancer, and the immune system helps the body fight infection and other conditions. It comprises blood cells as well as the tissues and organs of the lymph system.

Different types of immunotherapy help boost the immune system’s ability to find and clear cancer cells.

Other treatment options for multiple myeloma may include:

A person can work with a doctor and healthcare team to create the most effective treatment plan.

Read more about multiple myeloma treatment options.

Below are answers to common questions about immunotherapy for multiple myeloma.

What is the success rate for immunotherapy for multiple myeloma?

Studies have shown CAR T-cell therapy to have a varying response rate of around 50–95%.

What are the side effects of immunotherapy for multiple myeloma?

The most common side effects are fatigue and inflammation. A person may also experience inflammation throughout the body, including the skin, lungs, or colon. Skin inflammation may appear as pigment changes, a rash, or itchiness, while inflammation of the lungs can cause chest pains or a cough. Additionally, colon inflammation can cause diarrhea or abdominal pain.

Immunotherapy is an emerging treatment for multiple myeloma, and healthcare professionals are studying and testing new immunotherapies.

While these techniques show promise in the treatment of multiple myeloma, the disease remains difficult to treat and cure. Many people with multiple myeloma experience a remission of symptoms following treatment. However, most of them also experience a recurrence of cancer.

A person can speak with a doctor about all the treatment options for multiple myeloma.