Is Multiple Myeloma Genetic? Your faq

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Multiple myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells that causes a harmful chemical to build up in the body. As it progresses, cancer can cause symptoms such as a low blood count, kidney problems, more frequent infections, and bone and calcium problems.

While researchers still don’t know what causes multiple myeloma, they do know genetics can play a role. Factors such as sex assigned at birth and family history can all affect your chances of developing the condition.

Racial and ethnic origins are seen as contributing factors in the context where inequalities in health care are likely to be the cause.

There are a lot of questions surrounding genetics and multiple myeloma. Here’s what the latest research has to say about some of the most frequently asked questions about cancer.

Researchers are studying the genetic links of multiple myeloma. If they can understand how it affects people and the underlying cause, it will help them better predict and treat disease.

Genetic mutations play a role in the development of multiple myeloma, according to the Patient Empowerment Network.

Chromosomal translocations (where parts of chromosomes are exchanged) account for about 40 percent of all cases. In about 50% of cases, chromosome 13 is missing. Additionally, there are at least 12 different genetic subtypes of myeloma.

Research published in 2014 indicates that cases of multiple myeloma can be divided into two large groups based on changes in chromosomes. The two groups include:

  • hyperdiploid group, which is characterized by trisomies (where there is an extra chromosome)
  • non-hyperdiploid group, which is characterized by translocations (where parts of the chromosomes are exchanged with other parts)

Researchers have also noted that genetic events or changes contribute to the development of cancer.

In a study published in 2020, researchers looked at various biomarkers of multiple myeloma. They discovered that if you are diagnosed with a high risk status or GEP, you are less likely to respond to traditional therapies for multiple myeloma.

They noted that future studies should continue to examine biomarkers to determine the best treatment based on the genetic makeup of the cancer.

In some cases, multiple myeloma can be familial. But according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), that’s not necessarily true in all cases. You or a loved one may develop multiple myeloma even if no one else in your family has the disease.

About 5 to 7 percent of cases occur in people with a family history of multiple myeloma.

Research dating back to 2013 indicated that at the time, there were records showing more than 100 families with multiple family members with multiple myeloma or other plasma cell dyscrasias. According to the researchers, the number of confirmed cases of families developing the disease has led many to believe that it can be inherited.

If a member of your immediate family has developed multiple myeloma, you should tell your doctor. If your doctor is aware of the potential risk, he or she can look for the first signs of cancer and possibly start treatment sooner.

There are several potential risk factors for developing multiple myeloma.

Research shows that multiple myeloma is more than twice as likely to occur in blacks than in whites. A study as of 2020 notes that this is likely the result of a multifactorial cause, which may include a genetic variation and health inequalities.

Male birth attendants are also slightly more likely than female birth attendants to develop cancer.

People living with another cancer or at risk for disease may also be more likely to develop multiple myeloma. For example, a family history of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation may put you at a higher risk of developing cancer.

According to the ACS, other risk factors include obesity or the presence of other plasma disorders.

Although the exact cause of multiple myeloma remains unknown, researchers have identified potential triggers that you should be aware of.

According to the International Myeloma Foundation, certain toxic chemicals and viruses can trigger cancer. Some of the toxins identified include:

  • engine exhaust
  • benzene
  • fuels
  • dioxins
  • Cleaners
  • agricultural chemicals
  • solvents

Viral triggers can include:

  • hepatitis B or C
  • HIV
  • AIDS
  • simian virus 40 (SV40), a contaminant in an early version of the polio vaccine
  • several herpes viruses

Multiple myeloma can be terminal. Your response to treatment may vary depending on factors such as age and general health.

According to the ACS, the 5-year survival rate for multiple myeloma is:

  • localized (did not spread): 75%
  • far (spread to other areas of the body): 53 percent

In other words, 75 percent of people diagnosed with localized multiple myeloma are still alive after 5 years. Your chances of survival depend on:

  • when the cancer was caught
  • your overall health
  • your response to treatment
  • your age

Treatment for multiple myeloma may vary depending on the type of cancer you have. You should discuss the best treatment options for you or your loved one with your doctor. Treatment options may include:

  • radiation
  • chemo
  • medications
  • transfusions
  • stem cell transplant

Multiple myeloma has a genetic link that can make it more likely to occur if your family has a history of the disease, and it is diagnosed at a higher rate in males assigned at birth.

Research has also shown that multiple myeloma has an earlier onset, a higher prevalence, and a higher death rate in blacks than in whites. This is likely due to a combination of factors, one of which may be inequalities in health care.

Exposure to toxins or viruses, such as HIV, can trigger cancer.

Your outlook depends on where the cancer is when you start treatment, your general health, and your response to treatment.

If you have any questions about multiple myeloma, or think you or your loved one is at risk for the disease, talk to a healthcare professional.


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