Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia (WM) is a rare, slow-growing, non-Hodgkin lymphoma caused by an overproduction of immunoglobulin M. It causes a thickening of the blood’s plasma. WM, named after Professor Jan Waldenstrom who first described the symptoms, is also called lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma.
WM is a rare disease with 1,500 new cases in the US per year.
- Gender: WM occurs more commonly in males than in females.
- Ethnicty: Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia impacts Caucasians more than any other race or ethnicity
- Age: The median age of WM patients is 63.
WM is an incurable, but treatable, cancer. The disease and its prognosis vary from patient to patient. There is also no evidence that early treatment affects survivability.
WM is believed to be a genetic disorder. As a result, genetic testing may indicate a predisposition for the disease. Its causes, however, remain unknown.
Some patients with WM do not experience the onset of any symptoms, illustrating the importance of regular physical examinations and screenings. Symptoms, when present, may indicate a variety of other ailments.
COMMON SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
- Weakness / Severe Fatigue
- Headache / Dizziness
- Swollen Lymph Nodes, Spleen, or Liver
- Nose or Gum Bleeds
- Weight Loss
- Visual and Neurological Dysfunction
- Bruises, Bleeding, or Skin Lesions
- Night Sweats
- Pain / Numbness in Extremities
OTHER SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
- Hyperviscosity (thickening) of the blood
- Heart Failure
A hematologist can diagnose WM primarily through bone marrow biopsy and blood tests.
- Blood Test: to determine the level of IgM and presence of proteins in the blood that may indicate lymphoma.
- Bone Marrow Biopsy: This procedure involves extracting cells from the back or pelvis. The cells will be scanned for the presence of lymphocytes in a laboratory.
- Flow Cytometry: This procedure allows physicians to look for traits on cell surfaces or in lymphocytes that may indicate WM.
- CT Scan: This imaging test allows physicians to observe the inner workings of the chest, abdomen, pelvis, lymph nodes, liver, and spleen.
There is no cure for WM, but treatment options can help prevent its spread and control the symptoms. Because the disease is so rare, additional research is necessary to determine a standard course of treatment. Treatment depends on the patient’s blood thickness.
The disease is so rare that a second or third opinion is recommended prior to treatment. The International Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia Foundation and the Mayo Clinic should be primary resources to any diagnosed patient. Patients are encouraged to participate in clinical trials through the National Cancer Institute for new treatments.
Common Treatment Options
- Chemotherapy: This is the most common treatment. Chemotherapy is the use of chemical agents (drugs) to kill cancer cells.
- Biological Therapy: This stimulates the patient’s immune system. Often, the substance Interferon Alpha is used to relieve symptoms.
- Plasmapheresis: In this treatment, a machine separates the patient’s blood, and a plasma substitute is returned to reduce blood hyperviscosity. Plasmapheresis is typically followed with chemotherapy.
Treatment options may be used in conjunction with one another.