Study co-leader Richard Houlston, professor of molecular and population genetics at The Institute of Cancer Research, and colleagues said myeloma -- one of the most common types of blood cancer -- is caused by genetic mutations in white blood cells, which normally help fight infection and injury.
Fewer than 4-in-10 with the disease survive for more than five years, and 3-in-10 die within a year.
One genetic marker is linked to the gene TERC, which regulates the length of the telomere "caps" on the ends of DNA. In healthy cells, these caps erode over time, which causes tissues to age, but some cancer cells seem able to ignore the aging process in order to keep on dividing.
If further studies confirm the link, TERC could be a target for future myeloma treatments, Houlston said.
"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," Houlston said in a statement.
The findings were published in the journal Nature Genetics.