Radiotherapy for myeloma | Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter

Radiotherapy for myeloma

Men and women discussing myeloma

This page tells you about radiotherapy for myeloma. You can find the following information


A quick guide to what's on this page

Radiotherapy to strengthen bones

Radiotherapy uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells. The radiation used is similar to that used for X-rays. Myeloma can damage areas of bone and make them weaker or painful. Radiotherapy can strengthen the bone and reduce pain in those areas.

Radiotherapy as part of a transplant

Sometimes radiotherapy is used as part of a stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant. Doctors call this total body irradiation (TBI) and it involves giving a high dose of radiotherapy to the whole body as well as high dose chemotherapy. This treatment kills off the bone marrow, including myeloma cells. You then have a drip of stem cells or bone marrow, so that your bone marrow starts to make blood cells again.

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating myeloma section.



What radiotherapy is

Radiotherapy means using high energy rays to kill cancer cells. It uses radiation similar to that used for X-rays.


Radiotherapy to strengthen bones

Myeloma can cause damage to areas of bone, which weakens the bone and can cause pain. Sometimes this makes the bone break (fracture). Radiotherapy kills off the cancer cells in the bone and shrinks the cancer. It can strengthen the bone and helps to reduce bone pain.

Sometimes, a bone needs to be pinned to keep it stable and stop it from breaking. This is done during an operation. The surgeon puts a metal pin into the bone to strengthen it and hold it together. They do this if there is a strong risk of the bone breaking before radiotherapy has had time to work. 

If you have an operation to fix a bone, you might still need to have radiotherapy afterwards to kill off the myeloma cells and strengthen the bone.


Having radiotherapy

Before you begin your treatment, the radiotherapy team carefully plan your external beam radiotherapy. This means working out how much radiation you need to treat the myeloma and exactly where you need it. 

Your planning appointment may take from 15 minutes up to an hour or so. You will have a planning CT scan. After the planning scan you may have to wait a few days before you start treatment. 

Radiotherapy machines are very big. The machine may be fixed in one position or able to rotate around your body to give treatment from different directions. Before your first treatment your radiographers will explain what you will see and hear. The treatment rooms usually have docks for you to plug in music players. So you can listen to your own music.

You can't feel radiotherapy when you actually have the treatment. It takes anything from 20 to 30 minutes. It is important to lie in the same position each time, so the radiographers may take a little while to get you ready.

A photo of a linear accelerator, which gives radiotherapy

Once you are in the right position the staff leave you alone in the room for a few minutes. They watch you carefully on a closed circuit television screen.

Our page about having external radiotherapy has a video about having radiotherapy that you may want to watch.

External radiotherapy doesn't make you radioactive. It is perfectly safe to be with other people, including children, throughout your course of treatment.


Radiotherapy as part of high dose treatment

You may have radiotherapy as part of a stem cell or bone marrow transplant. In this case you have radiotherapy to your whole body. This is called whole body irradiation (WBI) or total body irradiation (TBI). You may have TBI twice a day for 3 or 4 days, or as a single treatment.

First you have a planning session of about 90 minutes to create the treatment plan. You lie on a hard couch or stand supported by a specially designed frame.

The radiographers measure the thickness of various parts of your body. They make sure the treatment couch or frame is in exactly the right position. During this session you have a very small dose of radiotherapy aimed at your body from a machine next to the treatment couch or frame. You have half your body treated for 10 to 15 minutes. Then you turn and have the other half treated.

For the treatment sessions the radiographers help you to lie or stand in the correct position. This may take up to half an hour. Then you have treatment for 10 to 15 minutes on both sides of your body.

Radiotherapy is rarely used if you are using your own stem cells (autologous transplant). But it is part of treatment if you are using donor stem cells or bone marrow (allogeneic transplant).


More information about radiotherapy

Find out about


Possible side effects of radiotherapy

Planning your radiotherapy treatment

Stem cell or bone marrow transplants for myeloma

TBI (Total  Body Irradiation)

Radiotherapy to control pain

For general information and support

Contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 (Open 9am - 5pm, Monday to Friday)

Share experiences on our online forum with Cancer Chat

Rate this page:
Submit rating


Rated 4 out of 5 based on 2 votes
Rate this page
Rate this page for no comments box
Please enter feedback to continue submitting
Send feedback
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team

No Error

Updated: 16 December 2015