If you’ve received a myeloma diagnosis, you may be wondering how alcohol consumption can affect your symptoms and disease progression. Your myeloma risk and treatment journey involve many factors, so it can be confusing to decide how much importance to give alcohol use in the scheme of everything else you may be experiencing.
Members of MyMyelomaTeam, the online social network and support group for people with myeloma, have discussed their questions and concerns about drinking alcohol after a myeloma diagnosis. “I have wondered about alcohol,” wrote one MyMyelomaTeam member. “I don’t drink a lot anymore, but do enjoy a cocktail or wine when out to dinner or on weekends. I haven’t started any treatments yet, but what is common with alcohol consumption?”
Members talk about continuing to drink in small amounts, and some stop consuming alcohol completely. “I will have a glass of wine every now and then,” shared one member. “No alcohol for me,” said another.
Alcohol can affect your myeloma treatment and symptoms in various ways. It also increases the risk of other chronic conditions and cancers. Your oncologist is the best source of advice on drinking alcohol with your case of myeloma, and the decision to stop or continue drinking is ultimately up to you.
Just as different people with myeloma might experience different degrees of symptoms like pain, impaired kidney function, fatigue, and infections, alcohol may affect these symptoms to varying extents. There is no research on the impacts of alcohol intake in people with myeloma, so it’s best to consult with your health care provider on the matter.
General research on the effects of alcohol can be applied to people with myeloma. For example, alcohol is a sedative and initially induces fatigue. People with different types of myeloma often experience fatigue, so alcohol may worsen that symptom.
People with myeloma may also have frequent infections. This is because multiple myeloma and certain treatments affect the immune system and the body’s ability to fight off bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Alcohol has been linked to reduced function of the immune system: A research study linked heavy alcohol use to impaired immune function and increased susceptibility to infections, particularly bacterial pneumonia. It’s important for anyone, but especially those with a weakened immune system from myeloma, to be aware of alcohol’s effect on the immune system.
Myeloma may also cause gastrointestinal issues like nausea, constipation, loss of appetite, and dehydration. Drinking alcohol or too much of it causes dehydration and, sometimes, nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain — which can affect or worsen gastrointestinal symptoms from myeloma.
Myeloma is a type of blood cancer that raises the risk of low healthy blood cell counts due to an overgrowth of myeloma cells (cancer cells). People with myeloma may experience anemia (a shortage of red blood cells), low platelet levels, and leukopenia (a shortage of white blood cells).
Alcohol can affect the production and health of blood cells and bone marrow. Research shows that alcohol intake can have toxic effects on bone marrow, reducing the production of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
Keep in mind that drinking heavily could put you at risk of several chronic conditions, like high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, and pancreatitis. Additionally, alcohol consumption increases your cancer risk. Alcohol has been identified as a cause of different cancers, including of the head and neck, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast.
Oncology professionals recommend being careful about alcohol intake and having honest conversations with your doctors about your lifestyle, treatment plan, and goals for your quality of life.
Many people wonder how drinking alcohol may interfere with the treatment of multiple myeloma, such as chemotherapy (chemo), radiation therapy, and surgeries like a stem cell transplant. The National Cancer Institute emphasizes the importance of checking in with your cancer treatment team about drinking alcohol during myeloma treatment.
Drinking alcohol is not advised with certain chemotherapy drugs, and alcohol has been found to worsen some chemo side effects, like a sore mouth. If you have questions about drinking alcohol during your myeloma treatment, talk to your oncologist. Because they know your medical history, risk factors, and cancer treatment regimen, they are best equipped to advise you on this topic.
“My personal experience was that, while on medications for multiple myeloma, any amount of alcohol, even a very small glass of wine, made me very ill,” one MyMyelomaTeam member wrote.
Some people are able to drink alcohol occasionally during cancer treatment without experiencing unpleasant effects. “At my 100-day checkup, my doctor said that it was OK to have a glass of wine to celebrate my 100 days, so I did,” said a MyMyelomaTeam member. Still, ask your doctor about what’s safe and best for you, since every cancer case is different.
As you navigate cancer treatments and lifestyle changes, listen to your body and make your needs known to your treatment team. If you get the OK to consume alcohol during your treatment but drinking makes you feel ill or fatigued, it might be a good idea to pause the alcohol and focus on your treatment and healing.
Your doctor’s job is to work with you and set realistic goals for adjustments that can improve your quality of life. As you explore medical information and treatment options together, be open about environmental factors, such as the role drinking has played in your social life. Note any challenges you think you might face.
If you’ve been diagnosed with myeloma and you have questions about drinking alcohol or anything else related to the condition, it can help to talk to others who understand.
MyMyelomaTeam is the online social network for people with myeloma and their loved ones. More than 17,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their experiences with others who understand life with myeloma.
Have you noticed changes in your myeloma symptoms after consuming alcoholic beverages? Does alcohol seem to affect your myeloma treatment? Have you made adjustments to your alcohol intake to benefit your myeloma? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or start a discussion on your Activities page.