On The Job With Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma occupational risk factors identified

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Exposure to certain chemicals is thought to be a possible cause of a blood cancer called multiple myeloma. Researchers have honed in on this to see how occupation can affect risks.

An international study discovered that people who had worked in certain occupations had higher risks of developing multiple myeloma. These included telegraph and radio operators and people who had worked in the farming, printing or cleaning industries.

"Be sure to wear protective gear when working around chemicals."

Multiple myeloma (MM) is disease that causes blood cells called plasma cells to grow out of control in the bone marrow. The disease can cause problems throughout the body, including broken bones. And while it affects the bones, MM is not considered a bone cancer.

Diagnosed in 21,700 Americans in 2012, an estimated 10,710 individuals will lose their battle with MM.

The EPILYMPH study examined the work histories of people who were diagnosed with multiple myeloma. The large study recruited patients from 22 centers in Europe between 1998 and 2004.

Multiple myeloma risks have been associated with exposure to pesticides or chlorinated solvents that are used for all sorts of things These solvents are used to mix or thin other solutions. So they're in cleaning products, paint thinners, pesticides and degreasers.

People in various occupations either breathe in the fumes of these chemicals or absorb them through their skin.

For this study, researchers worked with 277 multiple myeloma patients. Four healthy people of the same age and sex as each of the MM patients were used as controls.

The goal of EPILYMPH study was to examine the risks of number of factors, including education, body mass index, smoking, lifetime work history and work exposure to various chemicals.

Previous research has suggested MM risks may be linked to working with children, live animals, chemicals, dust, contact with meat and ionizing radiation.

Researchers found that certain occupations increased an individual’s risk of multiple myeloma compared to people who had not worked in that occupation. They found:

  • General farm workers had a 77 percent increased risk compared to non-farm workers.
  • If someone had been exposed to chemicals for more than 10 years, they had a 62 percent increased risk of developing multiple myeloma.
  • Telegraph and telephone operators had a six-fold increased risk.
  • Printers also had higher risks, though they weren’t considered significant.
  • Low education level was also associated with a 69 percent increased risk.

The average person's lifetime risk of being diagnosed with multiple myeloma is 1 in 159 (0.63%).

The authors wrote, “In conclusion, this multicentre collaborative study of lifetime occupation and risk of MM has shown an increased risk in farmers, cleaning workers and in subjects with prolonged exposure to pesticides. Further collaborative efforts will need to be pursued to better understand the observed associations.”

This research was published December 13 in Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology.

The research was funded by: Health Research Board, Ireland; Cancer Research Ireland; Spanish Ministry of Health FISS grant PI040091 and CIBERESP (EPILYMPHSpain); Compagnia di San Paolo di Torino, Italy - Progetto Oncologia 2001. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 13, 2012
Last Updated:
April 11, 2013