Risk Factors/Signs & Symptoms

Risk Factors

Doctors do not know what causes multiple myeloma, but researchers have identified that specific factors may increase a person’s risk of developing multiple myeloma. These include:

Age - Most people with multiple myeloma are diagnosed after age 65 and the disease is rare in people younger than 35.

Family History - Studies have found that a person's risk of multiple myeloma may be higher if a first degree relative had the disease.

History of Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance (MGUS) - MGUS is a benign condition in which abnormal plasma cells make M proteins. Usually, there are no symptoms, and the abnormal level of M protein is found with a blood test.

Race/Sex - The risk of multiple myeloma is highest among African Americans and lowest among Asian Americans. Men are more commonly diagnosed with this type of cancer than women.

Signs & Symptoms

Multiple myeloma can cause symptoms including bone pain, weakness, fatigue, thirst, increase in infections and fevers, impaired kidney function, weight loss, nausea, constipation and increased or decreased urination.

Common signs and symptoms/complications of multiple myeloma include:

Anemia - A person with a low red blood cell count (anemia) will exhibit symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath and dizziness due to inadequate oxygenation to tissues.

Bone pain - Myeloma cells make a substance that causes the bone to dissolve, which can cause small areas of bone weakness or “soft spots” and is painful. While any bone can be affected, pain in the backbone, hip bones, and skull is most common.

High level of calcium in blood
– When bone damage due to intrusion of myeloma cells occurs, the bone can dissolve and can release calcium into the blood. If this happens, a person will feel very thirsty, urinate frequently, experience a loss of appetite, constipation, and feel drowsy or confused. Hypercalcemia can affect almost every organ system in the body.

Fever and infections - People with multiple myeloma may develop frequent fevers and infections since their immune system is compromised and myeloma tumors weaken the body’s defenses against infection.

Kidney damage - Myeloma protein or an increase in the amount of calcium in the blood can damage the kidneys, which makes it harder for the body to rid itself of excess salt, fluid, and body waste products.

Nerve pain – Nerve damage and subsequent nerve pain can result from a number of issues: the disease itself, result of spinal cord compression, and from treatments for the disease. Bones in the spine may get weak and even collapse. They can press on certain nerves, causing severe pain, numbness, and/or muscle weakness. Abnormal proteins made by myeloma cells can damage nerves, causing weakness and numbness. People with multiple myeloma can experience prickling or tingling, numbness, sensitivity to touch, and muscle weakness in their extremities due to the disease itself as well as from treatments for myeloma.

Updated on October 28, 2014