A new study finds that a particular gene involved with the aging process could be a marker that determines who is predisposed to myeloma blood cancer as well.

Myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells, a type of white blood cell, within bone marrow. Normally, these cells are able to produce antibodies, which fight infection, however, when someone has myeloma, they become cancerous, and multiply uncontrollably. Because of this, a higher-than-normal amount of abnormal antibodies are also produced, which can cause problems in bones, the immune system, kidneys, and red blood cell counts.

Researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research in London studied the genetic makeup of 4,692 myeloma patients and compared them with the DNA of 10,990 people who didn’t have the cancer. They also combined their data with other samples of myeloma patient DNA from researchers in Germany. They discovered four new genetic variants, which acted as markers that they believed could indicate risk for developing myeloma.

One of these markers, the TERC gene, is responsible for regulating the length of telomere caps, which are found on the ends of DNA. Normally, these caps erode over time, leading to the aging of tissue. But they found that cancerous cells might be able to ignore these signals and continue to multiply.

“Our study has taken an important step forward in understanding the genetics of myeloma, and suggested an intriguing potential link with a gene that acts as a cell’s internal timer,” co-leader of the study Richard Houlston, professor of molecular and population genetics at the Institute of Cancer Genetics, said in a statement.

"We know cancer often seems to ignore the usual controls over ageing and cell death, and it will be fascinating to explore whether in blood cancers that is a result of a direct genetic link. Eventually, understanding the complex genetics of blood cancers should allow us to assess a person's risk or identify new avenues for treatment."

Myeloma usually develops in people aged 67 or older. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 22,350 Americans will be diagnosed with myeloma and 10,710 will die from it by the end of 2013. Symptoms of the cancer include high calcium levels, kidney failure, anemia-related fatigue, and bone damage or fractures.

In total, the researchers found four new genetic variants linked to myeloma, bringing the number of genetic variants linked to myeloma up to seven. The researchers say that these variants could be the targets for future myeloma treatments.

Source: Chubb D, Weinhold N, Broderick P, et al. Common variation at 3q26.2, 6p21.33, 17p11.2 and 22q13.1 influences multiple myeloma risk. Nature Genetics. 2013.