Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia

By Medically reviewed by Hello Doktor Medical Panel

Definition

What is Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia?

Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia is a type of cancer that begins in the white blood cells. If you have Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia, your bone marrow produces too many abnormal white blood cells that crowd out healthy blood cells. The abnormal white blood cells produce a protein that accumulates in the blood, impairs circulation and causes complications.

Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia is considered a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s sometimes called lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma.

How common is Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia?

Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia is slow growing and may not cause signs and symptoms for many years.

When they do occur, signs and symptoms may include:

  • Easy bruising
  • Bleeding from the nose or the gums
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Numbness in your hands or feet
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Changes in vision
  • Confusion

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia?

It’s not clear what causes Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia.

Doctors know that the disease begins with one abnormal white blood cell that develops errors (mutations) in its genetic code. The errors tell the cell to continue multiplying rapidly.

Because cancer cells don’t mature and then die as normal cells do, they accumulate, eventually overwhelming production of healthy cells. In the bone marrow — the soft, blood-producing tissue that fills in the center of most of your bones — Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia cells crowd out healthy blood cells.

Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia cells continue trying to produce antibodies, as healthy white blood cells do, but instead they produce abnormal proteins that the body can’t use. The protein immunoglobulin M (IgM) accumulates in the blood, impairs circulation and causes complications.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia?

There are many risk factors for Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia, such as:

  • Being older. Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia can occur at any age, but it’s most often diagnosed in adults 65 and older.
  • Being male. Males are more likely to be diagnosed with Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia.
  • Being white. White people are more likely to develop the disease, compared with people of other races.
  • Having a family history of lymphoma. If you have a relative who has been diagnosed with Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia or another type of B-cell lymphoma, you may have an increased risk.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia diagnosed?

To diagnose this disease, your doctor will start by performing a physical exam and ask you about your health history. Your doctor may check for swelling in your spleen, liver, or lymph nodes during the exam.

If you have symptoms of Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia, your doctor may order additional tests to confirm your diagnosis. These tests may include:

  • Blood tests to determine your level of igm and to evaluate the thickness of your blood
  • A bone marrow biopsy
  • CT scans of bones or soft tissue
  • X-rays of bones or soft tissue
  • CT scan and X-ray of the bones and soft tissues are used to differentiate between Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia and another type of cancer called multiple myeloma.

How is Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia treated?

There’s no cure for Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia. However, treatment can be effective for controlling your symptoms. Treatment for Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia will depend on the severity of your symptoms. If you have Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia without any symptoms of the disorder, your doctor may not recommend any treatment. You may not require treatment until you develop symptoms. This may take several years.

If you have symptoms of the disease, there are several different treatments your doctor may recommend. These include:

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a medicine that destroys cells in the body that grow quickly. You can get this treatment as a pill or intravenously, which means through your veins. Chemotherapy for Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia is designed to attack the abnormal cells producing the excess IgM.

Plasmapheresis

Plasmapheresis, or plasma exchange, is a procedure in which excess proteins called IgM immunoglobulins in the plasma are removed from the blood by a machine, and the remaining plasma is combined with donor plasma and returned to the body.

Biotherapy

Biotherapy, or biological therapy, is used to boost the immune system’s ability to fight cancer. It can be used with chemotherapy.

Surgery

It’s possible your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the spleen. This is called a splenectomy. People who have this procedure may be able to reduce or eliminate their symptoms for many years. However, the symptoms of the disease often return in people who’ve had a splenectomy.

Clinical Trials

Following your diagnosis, you should also ask your doctor about clinical trials for new medications and procedures to treat Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia. Clinical trials are often used to test new treatments or to investigate new ways to use existing treatments. The National Cancer Institute may be sponsoring clinical trials that may provide you with additional therapies to combat the disease.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Review Date: December 18, 2017 | Last Modified: December 8, 2019