Multiple Myeloma: Risk Factors

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2016

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing this type of cancer. To see other pages, use the menu.

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. However, knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

The causes of myeloma are not known or well understood. There are currently no known ways to prevent it. Currently, there are also no obvious strong risk factors for myeloma. Mutations or changes in plasma cells are acquired, not inherited, so having a relative with the disease usually does not mean another family member is at higher risk for developing it. There appears to be a slight increase in the incidence of the disease in first-degree relatives (parents or siblings) of people with multiple myeloma.

The following factors can raise a person's risk of developing myeloma:

  • Age. Myeloma occurs most commonly in people over 60. The average age at diagnosis is 70. Only 2% of cases occur in people under 40.

  • Race. Myeloma occurs twice as frequently in black people than in white people. The reasons why are unclear, although it appears to also be more common in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean.

  • Exposure to radiation or chemicals. People who have been exposed to radiation or to asbestos, benzene, pesticides, and other chemicals used in rubber manufacturing may be at higher risk for developing myeloma. Those exposed to wood products, such as carpenters, furniture makers, and paper makers, are also at higher risk. There is also a high incidence of myeloma among professional firefighters and those exposed to herbicides, including Agent Orange.

  • Personal history. People with a history of a solitary plasmacytoma of the bone are at greater risk for developing multiple myeloma.

  • Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS). As explained in the Introduction, a person with a small amount of M protein in his or her blood has a 1% to 2% chance of developing myeloma, lymphoma, or another blood-related cancer called Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia per year (see the Stages section for more information).

  • Gender. Myeloma is slightly more common in men.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs. It explains what body changes or medical problems this disease can cause. Or, use the menu to choose another section to continue reading this guide.