The exact cause of myeloma is not yet fully understood. We do know that myeloma develops when genetic ‘errors’ occur within the DNA of a plasma cell, but we do not currently know why these errors occur.
What are the risk factors for myeloma?
Although we don’t currently know what causes myeloma, researchers have identified some risk factors. These risk factors are defined as anything that increases a person’s chances of getting myeloma.
The risk of myeloma increases as people get older and myeloma is slightly more common in men than women, and is more common in black populations than in white or Asian populations.
Some people go on to develop myeloma after having been diagnosed with a condition called MGUS which stands for Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance. It’s generally now accepted that all myeloma patients have had MGUS first, whether it was identified or not.
There are also thought to be multiple environmental factors which may increase the risk of developing myeloma. These include exposure to certain types of industrial and agricultural chemicals, exposure to high doses of radiation, viruses and a weakened immune system.
However, in the majority of cases, the causes of myeloma are likely to be unique to each individual patient.
Is myeloma hereditary?
Myeloma is not inherited in the same way as other diseases are – such as cystic fibrosis and some forms of breast cancer – which are known to be caused by a single inherited gene.
However, there is a slightly higher occurrence of myeloma amongst family members than in the general population.
This suggests that people may inherit genetic factors that increase their chances of developing myeloma, but it doesn’t mean that they will definitely get it.
Studies have shown there are some hereditary genetic ‘errors’ which can increase the likelihood of a person developing myeloma. However, their effect is very small. So someone may inherit a certain combination of genetic errors that puts them at higher risk of developing myeloma, but these are only a small part of the puzzle. What we do know is that other genetic and environmental factors are needed before myeloma develops.