Risk factors and causes

In the UK, around 5,500 people are diagnosed with myeloma each year. It is slightly more common in men than women. Doctors do not know what causes myeloma, but a number of things are known to increase the risk of it developing.

MGUS

Research shows that almost everyone with myeloma has had MGUS first. But not everyone who has MGUS goes on to develop myeloma.

Age

Myeloma is more common in older people. It is most commonly diagnosed in people over the age of 65. It is rare in people under the age of 40.

Race

Myeloma is more than twice as common in African-Caribbean people than in white people.

Sex

Myeloma is more common in men than in women.

Family history

People who have a close family member (such as a parent, brother or sister) with myeloma have a slightly increased risk of developing it.

A weakened immune system

A weak immune system increases the risk of developing myeloma. Some conditions reduce immunity, such as HIV. People taking medicines to weaken (suppress) their immune system after an organ transplant are also at a higher risk.

Autoimmune disease

Autoimmune diseases cause the body’s immune system to attack healthy cells in the body by mistake. Some autoimmune disorders can slightly increase the risk of developing myeloma. These include:

  • Pernicious anaemia
  • Haemolytic anaemia
  • Lupus.

Body weight

Some research suggests that being overweight may increase the risk of developing myeloma. Keeping to a healthy body weight may reduce the risk of myeloma and other cancers.

Like other cancers, myeloma is not infectious and cannot be passed on to other people.