Multiple myeloma is a rare type of cancer. White blood cells are formed in the bone marrow and are called plam cells.

In multiple myeloma, cancerous plasma cells make an antibody called monoclonal immunoglobulin (or monoclonal protein). This antibody can damage the cells of the bones, blood, and other organs, leading to serious health complications.

Although multiple myeloma is rare, in the United States Black people are much more likely to develop multiple myeloma than white people, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

In 2016 alone, the number of new cases of multiple myeloma in Black Americans was more than the number of new cases in white Americans.

We will look at the research on the racial balance of multiple myeloma and how we can help improve the diagnosis and treatment of multiple myeloma for Black Americans.

Multiple myeloma disproportionally affects Black people more than any other racial or ethnic group, according to statistics from the NCI.

There is a comparison of the number of new cases of multiple myeloma among various racial and ethnic groups.

Race and ethnicity Males (per 1,000) Females (per 1,000)
white 8.1 5.0
Black 17.0 12.9
Asian/Pacific Islander 5.1 3.2
Indian/Alaska Native 9.1 6.1
Hispanic 8.1 5.9

Why does this affect Black people more than other groups?

Researchers in one 2020 medical literature review investigated the role of genetic differences in the risk of multiple myeloma. They found that certain genetic components may play a large role in myeloma risk.

People of African descent may be at a higher risk of developing multiple myeloma because of certain high risk genes.

Researchers found that people in the top 10 percent of genetic risk had an 80 percent increased risk of developing multiple myeloma than people in the lower 10 percent.

In a 2018 study, researchers found that a specific set of genetic abnormalities was associated with multiple myeloma risk.

People with African ancestry who had multiple myeloma were more likely to have certain genetic anomalies than people with the lowest African ancestry.

Other risk factors for multiple myeloma

Genetics only plays one part in the development of cancers like multiple myeloma. The following factors can also play a role in someone’s risk of developing cancer:

  • There is no access to healthcare coverage.
  • Lower income and education levels.
  • Work and occupational status are lower.
  • Poor living conditions and exposure to toxins.
  • There is a lack of physical activity.
  • Smoking and drinking are lifestyle behaviors.

Many of these factors — which disproportionately affect Black people and other marginalized groups in the United States — can potentially have an effect on the development of cancers like multiple myeloma.

According to NCI statistics, Black people with multiple myeloma are almost twice as likely as white people to die from the disease.

Research from 2022 suggests that this huge disparity in death rates is most likely due to a variety of factors — many of which involve different types of healthcare barriers.

Misdiagnoses and late diagnoses

Misdiagnoses and late diagnoses for conditions like multiple myeloma are more common in populations that lack access to proper medical treatment, according to the NCI.

“Late-stage diagnoses are much harder to treat if you don’t get an early diagnosis.”

Barriers to accessing healthcare

Many people in the United States face barriers that make it difficult to get healthcare services.

Some of these barriers include:

  • Lack of income or transportation is a problem.
  • Poor health education.
  • No health insurance.
  • There is no paid medical leave from work.

Lack of access to novel treatments

“People with multiple myeloma can have a lower chance of being cured if they don’t have access to the most effective treatment options.”

Researchers in one large 2017 research review found that the use of novel therapies for multiple myeloma, like certain medications and stem cell transplants, were lowest in Black people after diagnosis.

Underrepresentation in clinical trials

According to medical literature, while Black people encompass 14 percent of the U.S. population, they only represent a small percentage of clinical trial participants — as low as 4.5 percent of participants in multiple myeloma trials.

Black people with multiple myeloma have a lower treatment outcome due to a lack of representation in these trials.

Standard of care affects your outcome

Research shows that providing equal access to treatment can improve survival rates for black people more than white people.

In a 2019 study, researchers explored the impact of equalizing treatment for more than 15,000 Black and white people with multiple myeloma.

When equal treatment was provided to both groups, younger Black people (below age 65) had equal or higher survival rates than any of their white counterparts.

According to the American Cancer Society, a lack of symptoms in the early stage of the disease can make it more difficult to diagnose multiple myeloma early.

People who have symptoms may notice.

  • It can be in the back, hips, or skull.
  • Weakness in the bones can lead to broken bones.
  • It can cause anemia if the red blood cell count is low.
  • Increased infections can be caused by low white blood cell count.
  • Low blood platelets can cause problems with blood clotting.
  • high blood calcium levels and hypercalcemia symptoms
  • There is severe pain in the back.
  • Muscle weakness and numbness in the legs.
  • There are pins and needles in the body.
  • There are confusion, dizziness, or stroke-like symptoms from thick blood.
  • Weakness, itching, or swollen legs are some of the symptoms of damage to the kidneys.

Recognizing symptoms and receiving treatment early is important

Getting a diagnosis for multiple myeloma can be difficult because of the symptoms that can be associated with other conditions. Early diagnosis and treatment of cancer are important.

In fact, the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation shares that early treatment via a stem cell transplant may give people the best chance of staying in remission for the longest time.

And researchers in a 2021 research review suggest that early diagnosis and treatment for multiple myeloma — especially the precancerous smoldering multiple myeloma — is essential in helping both prevent myeloma and improve remission rates.

If you think you may have symptoms, ask a doctor for the following diagnostic tests

If you are concerned about multiple myeloma, you should ask a doctor or healthcare professional for a closer look at the diagnostic tests.

  • Labs. Blood tests, like the serum protein electrophoresis (SPEP) test, can check for antibodies that are commonly associated with multiple myeloma. Standard blood work, such as a complete blood count (CBC), can also be used to check for changes in your blood, bones, and other organs that multiple myeloma can cause.
  • Imaging. CT scans, MRIs, and X-rays can all check for changes in your bones that might be the result of multiple myeloma. Imaging tests also help doctors identify any changes to your organs that can happen because of multiple myeloma.
  • Biopsy. Biopsies play a huge role in diagnosing multiple myeloma — especially a bone marrow biopsy. By taking a bone marrow biopsy, a doctor can check for myeloma cells in your bone marrow. They can also analyze those cells to help determine your outlook if cancer is present.

Multiple myeloma resources

Whether you have already received a diagnosis of multiple myeloma or are looking for resources for a loved one with the condition, here are some resources to get you started.

  • The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Clinical Trial Support Center can help you find multiple myeloma clinical trials.
  • The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation has a support group finder to help you find support groups in your area.
  • The American Cancer Society has a resource finder that can help you search for treatment-related resources in your area.
  • The International Myeloma Foundation has a full page of online resources for finding financial, legal, and other types of support.

Consider participating in clinical trials

If you have received a multiple myeloma diagnosis and are interested in exploring your treatment options, you should consider participating in clinical trials.

More Black representation in clinical trials that explore genetic components or new treatments can help improve the early diagnosis and treatment of multiple myeloma for Black Americans.

What can I do to lower my risk of developing multiple myeloma?

According to the American Cancer Society, preventing multiple myeloma can be difficult because most of the risk comes from things that are hard to avoid or change, like genetics. But interventions like genetic screening can help you better understand your individual risk.

Where can I access free or low cost screenings for multiple myeloma?

There are no screening tests for multiple myeloma, but regular visits with a primary care doctor can detect early signs of the disease.

If you or your doctor suspect you have multiple myeloma, you should have blood work, and an x-ray.

What are the best treatment options for multiple myeloma?

Multiple myeloma can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of these approaches.

Stem cell transplant may be recommended by your doctor in some cases, which will help you stay in remission from multiple myeloma.