African Americans & Multiple Myeloma: Why Are We At Higher Risk?

multiple myeloma facebookWe know that prostate cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer disproportionately affect African Americans, but there is a lesser discussed cancer that also affects us more: multiple myeloma (MM). Multiple myeloma, a cancer  caused by malignant cells that spread throughout the bone marrow, is the 14th most common cancer in the United States and kills more than 10,000 Americans each year. African Americans are twice as likely to develop MM compared to Whites and the latest research indicates a genetic link.

A new study from the Mayo Clinic published in the journal Leukemia (Feb. 21) found that Blacks are more likely to have a a precursor blood disorder, monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS). Blacks in the study were also more likely to have proteins in their blood linked with a greater risk of progressing from MGUS to multiple myeloma.

“We have known for a long time that there is a marked racial disparity in multiple myeloma, but the big question has been why that disparity exists,” says the study’s senior author, Vincent Rajkumar, M.D., a hematologist/oncologist at Mayo Clinic.

“We suspected it may be genetic or it may be environmental. We also thought that the predisposing factor is more common, or it may be that the predisposing factor progresses to cancer much more quickly. We found that the answer is all of the above.”

Science Daily reported the following about the study:

In this study, Dr. Rajkumar and his colleagues at Mayo Clinic, the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set out to determine the prevalence of MGUS in blacks and Hispanics, as well as whites in other parts of the country. They analyzed stored serum samples of 12,482 people over 50 years old from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES), a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population.

By examining the M protein present in each sample, the researchers assessed both the prevalence of MGUS and its likelihood for progression. They found that the prevalence of MGUS was significantly higher in blacks (3.7 percent) compared with whites (2.3 percent) or Hispanics (1.8 percent), as were features that posed a higher risk of progression to multiple myeloma.

This is the first nationwide study to look at the MM precursor across different racial groups and researchers believe this will help tailor tailor screenings and prevention measures for the different groups.

Here’s four tests for multiple myeloma:

1. Blood tests

Blood tests reveal so much. When it comes to multiple myeloma, doctors look for M proteins, as well as another abnormal protein called beta-2-microglobulin. Measurement of free kappa and free lambda light chains also plays a key role in diagnosis. These tests give doctors a better idea of how aggressive the cancer is.

2. Urine tests

Urine tests also reveal M proteins; however, when M proteins are detected in urine, they’re called Bence Jones proteins….