Multiple Myeloma Risk Factors

Myeloma cancer begins when a single abnormal plasma cell reproduces itself in your bone marrow. But what causes this cellular level change in the first place? While no single cause has yet been identified, a number of multiple myeloma risk factors appear to make you more susceptible to the disease.

Multiple Myeloma and Age

Age is the most significant of the multiple myeloma risk factors. According to Myeloma Canada (2010), 96 percent of myeloma cases develop in individuals over 45 years of age and most people are diagnosed after 65. Researchers believe that the connection between multiple myeloma and age may have something to do with the weakening effect that aging has on immune function.

Gender and Multiple Myeloma

According to the National Cancer Institute (2008), each year approximately 11,200 men and 8,700 women are diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Scientists are not sure why males are at greater risk for the disease.

Genetic Multiple Myeloma Risk Factors

Family history doesn’t appear to be a strong risk factor for the disease. Very rarely is more than one person per family diagnosed with myeloma cancer. However, genetics do appear to play a role in multiple myeloma.

Studies show that individuals with multiple myeloma have genetic abnormalities in their plasma cells. Myeloma cells are often missing a portion or all of chromosome 13. While scientists believe these genetic abnormalities play a role in the development of the cancer, they haven’t yet pinpointed a cause.

Multiple Myeloma and Race

According to the Mayo Clinic (2009), African-Americans are twice as likely to develop the disease as Caucasians. Multiple myeloma is less common among people of Asian or Hispanic descent. The reason for this connection between multiple myeloma and race is unknown.

Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance (MGUS)

Like multiple myeloma, monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) is a condition in which abnormal plasma cells make M proteins. Unlike multiple myeloma, however, the condition is benign. Although most cases of multiple myeloma begin as MGUS, only a small percentage of people who have MGUS develop active myeloma cancer.

Multiple Myeloma Risk Factors: Other Medical Conditions

Certain other medical conditions may slightly increase the risk of developing multiple myeloma. These include:

  • Autoimmune diseases, such as AIDS, HIV and systemic sclerosis
  • Certain types of cancer, such as ocular melanoma and thyroid cancer
  • Inflammatory conditions, such as kidney inflammation and osteoarthritis
  • Severe infections, such as blood poisoning, hepatitis C and meningitis.

Obesity may also increase the risk of myeloma cancer.

Multiple Myeloma and Exposure to Chemicals

Some research studies conclude that exposure to agricultural chemicals, petroleum products and radiation may increase the risk of multiple myeloma. Most scientists agree that chemical exposure is a risk factor in only a very small number of cases.

Even if you have more than one of these multiple myeloma risk factors, you’re by no means guaranteed to develop the disease. Most people who have one or more risk factors never actually develop multiple myeloma.


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Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2009). Multiple myeloma: Risk factors. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from

Myeloma Canada. (2010). What causes myeloma? Retrieved September 27, 2010, from

National Cancer Institute. (2008). Risk factors. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. (n.d.). Symptoms, diagnosis & risk factors. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from

The Cancer Council NSW. (n.d.). Understanding multiple myeloma: Multiple myeloma explained. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from