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Causes & Risk Factors – Multiple Myeloma

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Multiple myeloma is caused by a corruption of DNA which causes the bone marrow of the body to produce abnormal plasma cells. Normally, plasma cells are responsible for producing the antibodies needed to protect the body from infection. The plasma cells affected by multiple myeloma grow abnormally and are unable to protect the body from infection. These blood cells become malignant as they mature and tend to collect in the bone marrow where they begin to cause a great deal of damage. As the bone marrow becomes damaged, it becomes less able to produce new healthy blood cells for the body to use. These malignant cells also multiply rapidly and begin to crowd out the healthy blood cells that are needed by the body. The condition is progressive and becomes more serious as time goes on. As the abnormal plasma cells grow in number within the body, other bodily processes begin to break down as there are not enough healthy blood cells in the body to sustain the needed systems.

The genetic abnormalities that cause the development of multiple myeloma are not greatly understood by researchers or medical professionals. Although the reason for the development of the condition is unknown, researchers have identified a number of factors that may increase an individual’s risk of developing the condition. Some individuals develop multiple myeloma without ever being exposed to the risk factors and some individuals that have been exposed to the risk factors never develop the condition. Some of the risk factors are environmental while others are hereditary. There is no way to predict which individuals will develop multiple myeloma and there is no way to avoid developing the condition.

Multiple myeloma is the second most common type of cancer, with nearly 15,000 new cases diagnosed annually. African-American individual and individuals of Pacific Islanders heritage develop multiple myeloma at a greater rate than Caucasian individuals, with individuals of Asian heritage having the lowest risk of developing the condition. The risk of developing multiple myeloma increases with age, with the average age of diagnosis being 68 years of age and less than 1% of diagnosed cases occurring in individuals under the age of 40. The condition occurs more often in men than in women and African- American men have the highest risk of developing multiple myeloma.

Environmental factors may also play a role in the development of multiple myeloma. Individuals that work in the petroleum industry, the agriculture industry, and in manufacturing have an increased risk of developing the condition. One reason for this increased risk is that each of these industries uses large amounts of a carcinogenic chemical called benzene in their daily operations. Benzene is used to manufacture insecticides, pesticides, gasoline, nylon, and rubber and is sometimes used as an industrial solvent. Long term exposure to high levels of benzene in an individual’s normal environment greatly increases the risk of developing a number of cancers, including multiple myeloma. Many of the individuals that develop multiple myeloma have not been clearly exposed to any risk factors and the reason for the development of these cases is still unknown.

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