Multiple myeloma is a benzene-related cancer that forms in plasma cells. Plasma cells arise in the bone marrow and are an important part of the immune system because they provide antibodies which help fight infections and other diseases. Cancerous plasma cells are called myelomas. An individual with multiple myeloma has an abnormal build-up of myeloma cells in the bone marrow which eventually crowd out healthy cells, leading to fatigue, an inability to fight infections, and kidney damage. These cancerous cells also cause damage to bones, increasing the risk of broken bones.
Who is at Risk for Multiple Myeloma?
Multiple myeloma often begins as monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), a condition in which an abnormal protein is in your plasma cells. In the United States, about 3% of people over the age of 50 have MGUS. Although MGUS does not typically cause any problems, about 1% of people with MGUS will develop multiple myeloma.
Further, it is well-documented in epidemiological studies that certain work-related exposures to toxins can lead to multiple myeloma. Excess cases of multiple myeloma have been observed in workers exposed to several toxic substances, including:
- Engine Exhausts
- Ionizing Radiation
Individuals who work as mechanics, petroleum workers and pressmen (to name a few), are at increased risk for developing multiple myeloma. Lastly, multiple myeloma can have a long latency period, which means that a diagnosis can result from exposures that occurred many years earlier.