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The findings, by a team of scientists led by the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), could lead to improvements in diagnosis and treatment of multiple myeloma.
The aggressive cancer develops in plasma cells, which make antibodies that attack and kill viruses and infections.
Around 4000 people are diagnosed each year with multiple myeloma and the average patient survives three to five years despite receiving intensive treatment.
Relatives of multiple myeloma patients were known to have up to a four-fold increased risk of suffering the disease.
This could be down to environmental factors as well as genetics but until now scientists have not been able to identify any genes responsible, the paper, published in the online journal Nature Genetics, states.
Professor Gareth Morgan, from the ICR and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and joint senior author, said: “Multiple myeloma is an aggressive cancer that sadly has poor survival rates.
“By learning more about the biology of multiple myeloma development, we hope to identify new drug targets -- or even existing drugs -- that could improve patient outcomes. Multiple myeloma is becoming more common as the population ages, and so it is even more important that we find new treatments.”
Using a technique called a genome wide association study, the scientists scanned the DNA of 1675 patients with multiple myeloma and compared them to around 5900 healthy people.
They found two regions of the genome were more common in people with multiple myeloma and were therefore linked to a higher chance of developing the disease.
Eric Low, chief executive of Myeloma UK, said: “Understanding the biological and genetic basis for the onset and progression of myeloma is extremely important and will lead to better screening, earlier diagnosis and treatment in the future.
“Despite the implications that this may have for families, the overall risk of myeloma remains very low.”
Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “While the genes discovered in this study have a relatively small impact on the risk of multiple myeloma, this research is the first to show how faulty genes can affect a person’s risk of the disease.”
She added that the findings improved knowledge about the condition, saying: “We know relatively little about the causes of multiple myeloma and it’s likely there are many more factors at play but this takes us a step forward in increasing our knowledge of the disease.”