This review of the plasma-cell disorders begins with the definition of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS). The prevalence of MGUS in white and black populations is described. MGUS is a common finding in the medical practice of all physicians, and thus it is important to both the patient and the physician to determine whether the monoclonal protein remains stable or progresses to multiple myeloma (MM), Waldenström's macroglobulinemia (WM), primary systemic amyloidosis (AL), or a related disorder. The long-term (almost 40 years) follow-up data of 241 patients in the Mayo Clinic population is provided. In a large study of 1384 patients with MGUS from southeastern Minnesota, the risk of progression to MM, WM, AL, or other disorders was approximately 1% per year. Risk factors for progression are provided. The incidence of MM in Olmsted County, Minnesota, remained stable for the 56-year span 1945-2001. The apparent increase in incidence and mortality rates among patients with MM in many studies is due to improved case ascertainment, especially among the elderly. The incidence and mortality rates of MM in the United States and other countries are presented. The major emphasis is on the cause of MM, which is unclear. Exposure to radiation from atomic bombs, therapeutic and diagnostic radiation, and in workers in the nuclear industry field are addressed. Many studies involving agricultural occupations, exposure to benzene, petroleum products, and engine exhaust and other industrial exposures are discussed. Tobacco use, obesity, diet, and alcohol ingestion are all possible causes of MM. Clusters of MM have been noted. Multiple cases of MM have been found in first-degree relatives.