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What Are the Risk Factors for Multiple Myeloma?

There is no way to know for sure if you're going to get multiple myeloma. And there is no known way to prevent it. Certain factors can make you more likely to get this type of cancer than another person. These are called risk factors. Unfortunately, doctors do not know what causes multiple myeloma. The risk factors that have been found only slightly raise your chance of getting this type of cancer. Still, tell your doctor if you agree with any of the bolded statements.

I am older than age 65.

Growing older increases the chance of developing multiple myeloma. Most people with myeloma are diagnosed after age 65. People younger than 35 are rarely affected with the disease.

I am a man.

Men are slightly more likely to develop multiple myeloma than women.

I am African-American.

The risk of multiple myeloma is highest among African-Americans and lowest among Asian-Americans. The reason for the difference between racial groups is not known.

This cancer is in my family.

You are more likely to get multiple myeloma if a parent or a sibling has it. Researchers are studying families in which more than one person has multiple myeloma. However, such families are extremely rare.

I have worked with certain chemicals.

Exposure to petroleum products may raise your risk of getting multiple myeloma. If you use industrial chemicals at work, be sure to follow the guidelines for working with them safely.

I have been exposed to large amounts of radiation.

People who have been exposed to high levels of radiation, such as the survivors of the atom bomb, may have a higher risk for multiple myeloma. But while exposure to radioactivity has been suggested as a risk factor, it actually accounts for a very small number of cases.

I have a plasma cell disease.

Certain plasma cell diseases, such as solitary plasmacytoma and MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance), can develop into multiple myeloma.

A plasmacytoma is a collection of abnormal plasma cells found in one location instead of throughout the bone marrow, soft tissue, or bone. People who have MGUS have the same abnormal proteins, called M proteins, as people with myeloma, except there is not cancer. On average, people with MGUS have a small risk of developing myeloma—about a 1% chance per year.

I am overweight.

Research by the American Cancer Society suggests that being overweight or obese may increase a person's risk for developing multiple myeloma.