Multiple Myeloma: Risk Factors

Aprobado por la Junta Editorial de Cancer.Net, 07/2022

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing multiple myeloma. Use the menu to see other pages.

What are the risk factors for multiple myeloma?

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. But 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.

Although the genetic mutations that cause myeloma are acquired and not inherited, family history is a known risk factor for multiple myeloma. First-degree relatives of people with multiple myeloma have a 2 to 3 times higher risk of developing the disease. First-degree relatives are parents, siblings, and children.

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 the disease 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. People often 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 their blood has a 1% to 2% chance of developing myeloma, lymphoma, or another blood-related cancer called Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia per year (see the Stages section for more information).

  • Sex. Myeloma is slightly more common in men.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs. It explains what changes or medical problems multiple myeloma can cause. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.