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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Multiple myeloma risk factors

While the exact cause of multiple myeloma is not known at this time, there are some factors which may increase the risk of developing the disease.

The lifetime risk of getting multiple myeloma is relatively small. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 1 out 161 people in the United States will develop the disease at some point in their life. And although MGUS may eventually develop into multiple myeloma, the blood disorder typically does not affect people until they are in their 60s or 70s.

A study by the National Cancer Institute reported that it may take over a decade before MGUS develops into cancer. Blood tests are able to detect elevated levels of immunoglobulin, a potential indicator of a plasma cell disorder.

cancer risks

Multiple myeloma risk factors


  • Race: For unknown reasons, the incidence of multiple myeloma is twice as high in African Americans as compared to white Americans.
  • 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.


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


  • 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.


  • 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 are capable of producing functional antibodies. The American Cancer Society 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.
  • Radiation exposure: A small number of cases may be linked to exposure to high doses of radiation.

Last Revised: 10/09/2015

Understanding risk factors

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer. Not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss it with your doctor.

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