Blood Cancers Cancer Health Conditions Hub Multiple Myeloma

Are You at Risk for Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myeloma, a blood cancer related to leukemia and lymphoma, can’t be cured, although treatments that slow its spread do exist. Symptoms of the disease vary; for some people, there are no signs.

When symptoms do occur, they include:

  • Bone pain, especially in the spine or chest
  • Confusion or mental fogginess
  • Constipation
  • Excessive thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent infections
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Weakness or numbness in your legs
  • Weight loss

Unfortunately, scientists haven’t found many risk factors that affect the chances of developing multiple myeloma. These are a few:

Age. The risk of multiple myeloma increases as people age. Less than 1 percent of cases are diagnosed in those younger than 35. Most people diagnosed with multiple myeloma are 65 or older.

Gender. Men are a little bit more likely to develop this form of cancer than women.

Race. African Americans are at an increased risk of being diagnosed with multiple myeloma—a rate that is “almost twice that of whites,” said Meghan Buzby of the International Myeloma Foundation. The reason for this disparity isn’t not known.

Obesity. An American Cancer Society study found being overweight or obese increases the chances of developing myeloma. African Americans, especially women, carry the biggest obesity burden of all the populations in this country.

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Family history. Multiple myeloma appears to run in some families. People who have a parent or sibling with the disease are four times more likely to get it. That said, most patients have no relatives, so this accounts for a few cases.

Radiation. People exposed to radiation from an atomic bomb blast have a higher risk of multiple myeloma. Lower levels of radiation may also increase the risk of multiple myeloma, though experts say this accounts for only a small number of cases.

Other plasma cell diseases. Many people with monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) or solitary plasmacytoma will eventually develop multiple myeloma.

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