Multiple Myeloma

Causes & Risk Factors

Scientists at hospitals, medical schools, and research laboratories across the country are studying multiple myeloma. At this time, we do not know what causes this disease or how to prevent it.

Although scientists cannot explain what causes one person gets multiple myeloma while another doesn't, we do know that most multiple myeloma patients are between 50 and 70 years old. This disease affects blacks more often than whites and men more often than women.

Some research suggests that there are certain multiple myeloma risk factors increase a person's chance of getting multiple myeloma. For example, a person's family background appears to affect the risk of developing multiple myeloma; children and brothers and sisters of patients who have this disease have a slightly increased risk. Farmers and petroleum workers exposed to certain chemicals also seem to have a higher-than-average chance of getting multiple myeloma. In addition, people exposed to large amounts of radiation (such as survivors of the atomic bomb explosions in Japan) have an increased risk for this disease. Scientists have some concern that smaller amounts of radiation (such as those radiologists and workers in nuclear plants are exposed to) also may increase the risk. At this time, however, scientists do not have clear evidence that large numbers of medical x-rays increase the risk for multiple myeloma. In fact, most people receive a fairly small number of x-rays, and scientists believe that the benefits of medical x-rays far outweigh the possible risk for multiple myeloma.

In most cases, people who develop multiple myeloma have no clear risk factors. The disease may be the result of several factors (known and/or unknown) acting together.

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