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According to an article recently published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, being overweight or obese significantly increases the risk of developing multiple myeloma.

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the blood that affects the plasma cells. Plasma cells are an important part of the immune system; they produce antibodies to help fight infection and disease. Multiple myeloma is characterized by an excess production of abnormal plasma cells. Symptoms include increased risk of bacterial infections and impaired immune responses.

Results from several studies have indicated an association between increased body mass index (BMI, a measure used to determine if or to what extent an individual is overweight) and various types of cancers, including multiple myeloma. Researchers from Boston recently conducted another clinical study to further evaluate a potential association between BMI and the risk of multiple myeloma, as well as the effects of physical activity on the risk of developing this disease. This study included members of the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study; 36,623 participants were weighed and measured at enrollment and subsequently weighed every two years until a diagnosis of multiple myeloma or death or until 2002.

  • The association between BMI and the risk of developing multiple myeloma was the highest among obese men.
  • There was a moderate association between BMI and the risk of developing multiple myeloma among overweight and obese women.
  • Physical activity was not found to be related to the risk of developing multiple myeloma; however, there was a suggestion that lower levels of physical activity reduced the risk among women.
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The researchers concluded that these results provide further evidence of an association between obesity and an increased risk of developing multiple myeloma. However, these effects cannot be explained by physical activity.

Reference: Birmann B, Giovannucci E, Rosner B, et al. Body mass index, physical activity, and risk of multiple myeloma. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention [early online publication]. July 23, 2007. DOI: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-07-0143.