Myeloma risks and causes
This page is about the possible causes of myeloma. The cause of most cases is not known but there are some known risk factors. You can find the following information
Myeloma risks and causes
Myeloma is an uncommon cancer in the UK. It is very rare in people under 40. It is more common in black populations than white and Asian populations. It is more common in men than women. We don't know what causes most cases, but there are some known risk factors. Risk factors are things that increase your risk of developing a particular illness or disease.
Risk factors for myeloma
- MGUS – Some people who have a condition called monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance (MGUS) go on to develop myeloma. Almost everyone who has myeloma has MGUS first
- Family history – People who have a close relative diagnosed with myeloma or MGUS are more likely to develop myeloma or MGUS
- Lowered immunity - People who take medicines to lower immunity after an organ transplant, or have HIV are at increased of myeloma
- Some medical conditions - Autoimmune conditions such as pernicious anaemia, and a rare genetic condition called Gaucher disease increase the risk of myeloma
- Obesity – People who are overweight or obese may have an increased risk of myeloma
- Radiation exposure - People exposed to high levels of radiation may have an increased risk of myeloma
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the about myeloma section.
Around 4,900 people in the UK are diagnosed with myeloma each year. That's around 14 people every day. The risk of myeloma increases as we get older and it is very rare in people under 40. It is almost twice as common in black populations as it is in white and Asian populations. It is more common in men than in women.
We don't know what causes most cases of myeloma but there are some known risk factors. A risk factor is anything that increases your risk of getting a disease. Different cancers have different risk factors. Even if you have one or more risk factors, it does not mean that you will definitely get that disease.
Studies show that almost everyone who has myeloma has a rare medical condition called monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance (MGUS) first. MGUS means that there are too many large protein molecules known as immunoglobulins in the blood. MGUS is often found by chance because it can show up in routine blood tests. It doesn't cause any symptoms, and does not generally affect your health or need treatment. Some people with MGUS go on to develop myeloma, so if you have MGUS you will see a specialist regularly for check ups.
Studies show that people with a parent, brother, sister, or child with myeloma or monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance (MGUS) are 2 or 3 times as likely to develop myeloma or MGUS compared to people with no close family members with these illnesses.
People who take medicines to lower immunity after an organ transplant have an increased risk of myeloma compared to the general population. Less than 1 out of 100 people (1%) who have received an organ transplant develop myeloma.
People with HIV (human deficiency virus) have an increased risk of myeloma.
Other autoimmune conditions called alkylosing spondylitis, autoimmune haemolytic anaemia and systemic lupus erythematosis may also increase the risk of myeloma.
People with a rare genetic condition called Gaucher disease have an increased risk of myeloma. Gaucher disease causes a build up of fatty substances in certain organs of the body, such as the spleen and liver. This makes the organs larger and affects how well they work. The fatty substances can also collect in the bones which can cause pain, weakness and may break (fracture).
Most evidence shows that people who are overweight or obese may have a slightly increased risk of myeloma compared to people with a healthy bodyweight.
Diet does not appear to have any effect on myeloma risk but evidence in this area is weak. People who have a vegetarian diet may have a lower risk of myeloma.
People who have been exposed to high levels of radiation may have an increased risk of developing myeloma.
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