Risk Factors for Multiple Myeloma

What patients and caregivers should know about the risk factors for multiple myeloma.

Medically reviewed in July 2021

Multiple myeloma (MM) is cancer that begins when plasma cells become cancerous. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell that are mainly found in bone marrow and make antibodies that fight infections.

When plasma cells become cancerous, they crowd out other types of blood cells in the bone marrow, which can cause a person to have too few red blood cells and white blood cells. MM can also form tumors in the bones and can produce abnormal proteins. All of this can lead to a number of complications, including anemia, infections, fractures, and kidney problems.

MM is a highly manageable disease, and there have been major improvements in treatment over the past decade.

Risk factors
The cause of MM is unknown, though there are a number of known risk factors for MM. Many of these risk factors are uncontrollable, meaning they are beyond a person’s control. These include:

  • Age. A person’s risk of developing MM increases with age. The average age of people diagnosed with MM is between 65 and 70 years old. However, it does occur in people who are older, and people who are much younger.
  • Sex. MM is more common in men, though only by a slight number.
  • Family history. People who have an immediate family member with MM are slightly more at risk for developing MM. However, MM does not appear to be a hereditary disease.
  • Medical history. People who have a history of other plasma-cell diseases are at an increased risk for developing MM—specifically the plasma cell diseases solitary plasmacytoma and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS).
  • Race. MM is twice as common among African Americans than it is among Caucasians.

Additionally, being overweight or obese increases a person’s risk of developing MM. Because it is possible to lose weight through strategies like diet, exercise, and working with a healthcare provider, this is considered a controllable risk factor.

It’s important to remember that these risk factors only slightly increase a person’s chance of developing MM.

Controlling what you can
While you may not have control over most of the risk factors listed above, there are still many things you can do to improve your health and feel a sense of control when faced with a diagnosis like MM:

  • Exercise. Regular exercise can boost mood, reduce fatigue, and improve overall quality of life. Exercise does not have to be strenuous. Talk to your healthcare provider about what types of exercise are safe.
  • Follow-up care. Because there is no cure for MM, and relapses are common, it is very important to keep up with your appointments. MM requires regular monitoring. Your healthcare providers also need to know about your symptoms and any side effects from treatment.
  • Support groups. It can be very helpful to talk to other people who share your diagnosis, or a similar diagnosis. Contact your local hospital or healthcare center and ask about cancer support groups, or consider participating in an online support group.
  • Make time for yourself. Living with cancer can be mentally and emotionally demanding, and it is important to take time for yourself. Find time to do something relaxing each day, whether it’s read, keep a journal, meditate, spend time on a hobby, or listen to music.
  • Eat well. Your appetite and nutritional needs may change as a result of cancer and cancer treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about what foods you need and how to cope with changes in appetite.

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