About Myeloma

What should people know about myeloma?

Myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell that makes antibodies to fight infection. Plasma cells can be found in the bone marrow, the soft tissue inside bones. When cancerous plasma cells build up in the bone marrow, it can cause thinning and weakening of the bone.

Cancerous plasma cells can build up at many places in the body at the same time. When this happens, it is called multiple myeloma. Cancerous plasma cells can also build up at only one place in the body. This is called a solitary plasmacytoma. About 95% of myelomas are multiple myeloma. This fact sheet includes both solitary plasmacytoma and multiple myeloma.

Each year in New York State, almost 1,100 men and about 900 women are diagnosed with myeloma. About 350 men and over 300 women in New York die from this disease each year.

Who gets myeloma?

Most people who are diagnosed with myeloma are 65 years of age or older. It is rarely seen in people younger than 35 years of age. Men are slightly more likely to develop this disease than women. Myeloma is more than twice as common in African Americans as in white Americans.

What factors increase risk for developing myeloma?

At this time, the causes of myeloma are not well understood. However, scientists agree that certain factors increase a person's risk of developing this disease. These risk factors include:

  • Having other plasma cell diseases. People with monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) are at a higher risk of developing myeloma. Solitary plasmacytomas can also go on to become multiple myeloma.
  • Family history. People with a first-degree relative (sibling or parent) who had myeloma may have an increased risk for the disease.
  • Obesity. People who are obese or overweight have a greater risk of developing myeloma.

What other risk factors for myeloma are scientists studying?

Some studies have shown that exposure to high doses of ionizing radiation may increase the risk of developing myeloma, but other studies have not confirmed this. Certain occupational groups may be at increased risk for myeloma, including agricultural workers, nuclear workers, and workers exposed to the chemical benzene. Scientists are also studying the possible role of immune factors such as immune suppression in organ transplant recipients, autoimmune diseases and infections. Additional research is needed to determine the role, if any, these factors may have in the development of myeloma.

What can I do to reduce my chances of getting myeloma?

The following may help reduce the risk of developing myeloma:

  • Be aware of your family and personal history and discuss any concerns with your health care provider.
  • Choose a healthy diet to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and eat less red and processed (e.g., bacon, sausage, luncheon meat, hot dogs) meats. These actions may reduce the risk of developing many types of cancer as well as other diseases.
  • Exercise regularly.

How else can I reduce my risk of cancer?

  • Do not smoke. If you currently smoke, quit. Avoid exposure to second hand smoke. For more information on quitting smoking, visit the NYS Smoker's Quitline at www.nysmokefree.com or call 1-866-NY-QUITS.
  • Limit alcohol use.
  • Be aware of workplace health and safety rules and follow them.
  • Talk with your health care provider about recommended cancer screenings.

For more information: