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What Causes Myeloma?

We know that multiple myeloma develops when genetic "errors" occur in the DNA of plasma cells (a type of white blood cell produced in the bone marrow), causing them to multiply uncontrollably and overproduce one type antibody (immunoglobulin).

We also know what happens when these "errors" occur. Yet, despite the tremendous amount of work devoted to searching for their cause, we don't yet fully understand why these errors occur.

Current knowledge suggests possible associations between myeloma and a decline in immune function, genetic factors and environmental factors.

It's important to remember that having one or more risk factors does not mean a person will definitely get myeloma. Most people who develop myeloma have no clear risk factors. The causes of myeloma are likely to be unique to each patient, in the majority of cases. Myeloma may be the result of complex interactions between several factors.

Age
  • The single most significant risk factor for multiple myeloma
  • 96% of cases are diagnosed in people over the age of 45
  • The average age at diagnosis is the early 60s
  • 75% of cases involve people over the age of 70
Genetic
Factors
  • Myeloma is NOT inherited in the same way as some other diseases (such as those caused by a single inherited gene)
  • There is a slightly higher incidence of myeloma among first degree relatives of patients
  • Some inherited genetic "errors" can increase the likelihood of developing myeloma, but they have a very small effect
  • Myeloma is slightly more common in men than in women
Environmental
Factors 
  • Higher-than-average risk occupations:
    • Agricultural, petroleum and leather industry workers
    • Firefighters
    • Cosmetologists
  • Risk is increased with exposure to certain types of agricultural and industrial chemicals:
    • Herbicides
    • Insecticides
    • Petroleum products
    • Heavy metals
    • Plastics
    • Various dusts (ie, asbestos, etc.)
  • Exposure to large amounts of radiation (survivors of the atomic bomb explosion in Japan)

For more information, download the Multiple Myeloma Patient Handbook

Designed to provide educational support to patients, caregivers, families, and friends, this handbook gives accurate, reliable, and clear information on myeloma. Topics cover its causes and effects, how it is diagnosed and the treatment options available in Canada.

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