What is High-Dose Chemotherapy?
High-dose chemotherapy is combined with stem cell transplantation to treat multiple myeloma. High doses of chemotherapy are given in order to destroy more myeloma cells than would be possible with conventional (standard dose) chemotherapy. High-dose chemotherapy also destroys important cells in the bone marrow, called hematopoietic stem cells, which are responsible for the production of blood cells. Without these stem cells, blood cell production would cease. These stem cells must be replaced in order to restore blood cell production after high-dose chemotherapy. The procedure that restores the stem cells is called stem cell transplantation.
Historically, high-dose chemotherapy and hematopoietic stem cell transplantation has been considered to provide patients with a better chance for longer survival than other therapies. However, the newer, novel agents (e.g., Revlimid®, Velcade®, Thalomid®) are providing high response rates, with significantly prolonged survival as well. Thus, the role of high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation in the treatment of multiple myeloma is evolving.
Approximately 5,000 patients with multiple myeloma receive high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant each year in North America.