Multiple Myeloma Overview

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

What are the risk factors for multiple myeloma?

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. Very few cases are found in people younger than 35. Most people with this cancer are at least 65 years old.

Gender: Men are slightly more likely to get multiple myeloma than women.

Race: Multiple myeloma is almost twice as common among black Americans as white Americans. The reason is not known.

Radiation: People who were exposed to radiation from an atomic bomb blast had a higher risk of multiple myeloma. Lower levels of radiation may also increase the risk, but at most, this accounts for a very small number of cases.

Family history: This cancer seems to run in some families. If a person has a parent, brother, or sister with the disease, their risk of getting it is 4 times higher than that of other people. But this is rare. Most patients have no other relatives with the disease.

Weight: A study by the American Cancer Society found that being overweight or obese increases a person's risk of getting this cancer.

Other plasma cell diseases: Many people with certain other plasma cell diseases will develop multiple myeloma later.

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: 02/01/2013
Last Revised: 02/13/2013