Multiple myeloma is the second most commonly diagnosed type of blood cancer (after lymphoma). But it’s still relatively uncommon. Around the world, there were about 160,000 new cases in 2018. That makes up less than 1% of all cancer diagnoses.
Cases of multiple myeloma have risen in recent decades in Australia, Western Europe, the United States, and Canada. In the U.S., they’re up 143% since 1975. An estimated 34,470 Americans were expected to be diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2022. In the U.S., multiple myeloma accounts for almost 2% of new cancer cases and more than 2% of cancer deaths. That’s more than double the proportion worldwide.
Myeloma survival rates have improved a lot in the past few decades. The 5-year relative survival rate is almost 58%, up from 23.7% in 1976. This means about 58 out of every 100 people with multiple myeloma will live 5 or more years after being diagnosed. The term “relative survival rate” compares deaths of people who have the cancer to those of people without it.
How long you survive depends on your age, the stage of your cancer, your general health, and certain genetic and clinical findings at the time of your diagnosis.
Today, about 138,415 people in the U.S. live with or are in remission from myeloma.
The Epidemiology of Multiple Myeloma
Doctors don’t know what causes multiple myeloma. The disease shows up differently in different people. Although you’re more likely to get it if a family member also has it, there’s not much evidence to suggest it’s inherited.
Those who are most at risk include:
- Older people: Multiple myeloma is a cancer of advanced age. The average age of diagnosis in the U.S. is 69. Fewer than 15% of people diagnosed with myeloma are younger than 55. Doctors think rates of multiple myeloma have increased in recent years because people are living longer.
- Men: Men are 1.5 times more likely to get multiple myeloma than women. Researchers think this may be because men have higher rates of obesity and unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking alcohol. But there’s no proof of a direct link.
- Black people: The disease occurs twice as often in Black Americans as white ones. What’s more, African-Americans often get multiple myeloma at a younger age. Doctors aren’t sure why. U.S. patients of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have the lowest rates of the disease.
U.S. Rates of Myeloma per 100,000 People by Race/Ethnicity and Sex
Latino/Hispanic (all races)
Native American/Alaska Native
What Are the Stages of Multiple Myeloma?
Cancer staging outlines the amount of cancer at the time you’re diagnosed and where it’s located.
Only 4% of people are diagnosed at an early stage of myeloma. The rest are diagnosed after the cancer has spread to distant parts of their bodies. Doctors generally call myeloma “multiple myeloma” because nearly everyone (90%) diagnosed with it has more than one bone lesion (damaged area on the bone).
Doctors usually use the Revised International Staging System for multiple myeloma. This system divides myeloma into three stages. It looks at four factors of the disease:
- How much of a liver protein, called albumin, is in your blood. Higher levels mean a better prognosis.
- How much of the tumor marker beta-2 microglobulin (B2M) is in your blood. Higher levels mean your disease is more advanced and the outlook is poorer.
- Levels of the LDH (lactate dehydrogenase) enzyme in your blood. High amounts may mean the disease has done more damage to your body’s tissues.
- Whether you have abnormal genes typical of multiple myeloma. These genetic changes are linked to worse outcomes for multiple myeloma patients.
The National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database uses six categories to indicate stages of cancer, including myeloma. Only two of the SEER stages apply to myeloma:
- Localized, which means you have just one tumor that hasn’t spread
- Distant, which means you have several tumors and/or the cancer has spread to other areas
What Are the Survival Rates for Multiple Myeloma?
Survival rates are an inexact tool. So much depends on the traits of your cancer. The 5-year relative survival rate reflects an average of all people with multiple myeloma, including those who didn’t get treatment. Individual survival rates vary depending on several things, including:
- Your age: Myeloma survival rates are higher for younger people. Those under 50 have a 5-year relative survival rate of 76.8%. The rate of survival for those ages 50-64 is 67.5%, and it’s 49.6% for those older than 65.
- Your stage at diagnosis: Localized myeloma has a 5-year survival rate of 78.5%. It’s 57% for myeloma that has spread (multiple myeloma).
- Your overall health: Those with weak kidneys have poorer outcomes, as do people with conditions like heart disease or diabetes.
U.S. deaths from myeloma decreased for men and women from 2014 to 2018, the most recent years for which statistics are available. In 2022, about 12,640 Americans were expected to die of the disease.
What to Know About Cancer Statistics
Survival rates are based on cases from a while ago, currently between 2011 and 2017. People diagnosed with multiple myeloma today have better odds of survival. That’s because we know more about the disease and have better treatments.
Because of the individual nature of multiple myeloma, it’s best to discuss questions about your outlook with your doctor.