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Multiple myeloma

Risk factors for multiple myeloma

While the exact cause of multiple myeloma may not be known, several factors may increase the risk of developing the disease.

The lifetime risk of getting multiple myeloma is relatively small. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), approximately one out of 161 people in the United States will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in his or her life.

General

Race: For unknown reasons, the incidence of multiple myeloma is twice as high in African Americans as in Caucasians.

Gender: Men have a slightly higher risk than women for developing the disease.

Age: Only a very small percentage of young adults are diagnosed with multiple myeloma. The majority of those diagnosed are over 65 years old.

Body

Obesity: Research has found that obesity may lead to an increased risk of multiple myeloma.

Genetics

Family history: Having a sibling or a parent who’s had multiple myeloma may increase the likelihood of developing the disease as much as four times when compared to people who have no family history of multiple myeloma. However, this has only been found in a small number of cases.

Learn more about genetic testing

Other conditions

Personal history of MGUS: Some people who have a condition known as monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) may be at increased risk for multiple myeloma. In MGUS, an abnormal line of antibody-producing plasma cells will begin to produce monoclonal antibody proteins (M proteins). Over time, the proliferation of the M protein may crowd out the normal plasma cells that produce functional antibodies. The ACS has reported that, every year, approximately 1 percent of all people with MGUS develop a more severe disease, including multiple myeloma. It is not known why some people with MGUS develop multiple myeloma and others do not.

Exposures

Radiation exposure: A small number of cases may be linked to exposure to high doses of radiation.

Next topic: What are the symptoms of multiple myeloma?