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What Causes Myeloma

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

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. 

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 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.
Facteurs environnementaux
  • Higher-than-average risk occupations include:
    • Agricultural, petroleum and leather industry workers; firefighters; cosmetologists.
  • Risk is also increased with exposure to certain types of agricultural and industrial chemicals, including:
    • Herbicides, insecticides, petroleum products, heavy metals, plastics, various dusts (i.e., asbestos, etc.).
  • Individuals exposed to large amounts of radiation, such as survivors of the atomic bomb explosion in Japan, are also more at risk.

What's important to remember is 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. 

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.
Download it now.