What Are the Risk Factors for Multiple Myeloma?

A risk factor is anything that changes a person’s chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. For example, exposing skin to strong sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer. Smoking is a risk factor for lung cancer and many other cancers. 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 affect someone’s chance of getting multiple myeloma.

Age

The risk of multiple myeloma goes up as people age. Less than 1% of cases are diagnosed in people younger than 35. Most people diagnosed with this cancer are at least 65 years old.

Gender

Men are slightly more likely to develop multiple myeloma than women.

Race

Multiple myeloma is more than twice as common in African Americans than in 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. Exposure to lower levels of radiation may also increase the risk of multiple myeloma. At most, this accounts for a very small number of cases.

Family history

Multiple myeloma seems to run in some families. Someone who has a sibling or parent with myeloma is 4 times more likely to get it than would be expected. Still, most patients have no affected relatives, so this accounts for only a small number of cases.

Workplace exposures

Studies looking at workplace exposures and multiple myeloma risk have found no clear links.

Obesity

A study by the American Cancer Society has found that being overweight or obese increases a person’s risk of developing myeloma.

Having other plasma cell diseases

Many people with monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) or solitary plasmacytoma will eventually develop multiple myeloma.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: May 22, 2014 Last Revised: January 19, 2016

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