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A risk factor is something that affects a person’s chance of getting a disease. Some risk factors, such as smoking, can be controlled. Others, like a person’s age or race, can’t be changed. But risk factors don’t tell us everything. People who have no risk factors can still get the disease. Also, having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that a person will get the disease.

Scientists have found few risk factors that may make a person more likely to get multiple myeloma.

  • Age: The risk of multiple myeloma goes up with age.
  • Gender: Men are slightly more likely to get multiple myeloma than women.
  • Race: In the US, multiple myeloma is almost twice as common among African Americans than it is among whites.
  • Radiation: People who were exposed to radiation from an atomic bomb blast had a higher risk of multiple myeloma.
  • Family history: Someone with a close relative who has multiple myeloma has a higher risk of getting it themselves.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Having MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of uncertain significance)

For more details about these risk factors, see the section about risk factors in our document Multiple Myeloma.

While the exact cause of multiple myeloma is not known, scientists are learning how changes in DNA can cause plasma cells to become cancer. DNA is the substance that tells our cells how to behave. Cancer can be caused by changes (mutations) in the DNA that controls cell growth.

Last Medical Review: 05/22/2014
Last Revised: 01/19/2016