What is the definition of Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia?

Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM) is a cancer of the B lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). WM is associated with the overproduction of proteins called IgM antibodies.

What are the alternative names for Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia?

Waldenström macroglobulinemia; Macroglobulinemia - primary; Lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma; Monoclonal macroglobulinemia

What are the causes for Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia?

WM is a result of a condition called lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma. This is a cancer of the white blood cells, in which the B immune cells start dividing rapidly. The exact cause of too much production of the IgM antibody is unknown. Hepatitis C may increase the risk of WM. Gene mutations are often found in the malignant B cells.

Production of excess IgM antibodies can cause several types of problems:

  • Hyperviscosity, which causes the blood to become too thick. This can make it harder for blood to flow through small blood vessels.
  • Neuropathy, or nerve damage, when the IgM antibody reacts with nerve tissue.
  • Anemia, when the IgM antibody binds to red blood cells.
  • Kidney disease, when the IgM antibody deposits in kidney tissue.
  • Cryoglobulinemia and vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels) when the IgM antibody forms immune complexes with cold exposure.

WM is very rare. Most people with this condition are over 65 years of age.

What are the symptoms for Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia?

Symptoms of WM may include any of the following:

  • Bleeding of the gums and nosebleeds
  • Blurred or decreased vision
  • Bluish skin in the fingers after cold exposure
  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Easy bruising of the skin
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Numbness, tingling, or burning pain in the hands, feet, fingers, toes, ears, or nose
  • Rash
  • Swollen glands
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Vision loss in one eye

What are the current treatments for Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia?

Some people with WM who have increased IgM antibodies do not have symptoms. This condition is known as smoldering WM. No treatment is needed other than careful follow-up.

In people with symptoms, treatment aims at decreasing the symptoms and the risk of developing organ damage. There is no current standard treatment. Your health care provider may suggest that you participate in a clinical trial.

Plasmapheresis removes  IgM antibodies from the blood. It also quickly controls the symptoms caused by blood thickening.

Medicines may include corticosteroids, a combination of chemotherapy medicines and the monoclonal antibody to B cells, rituximab.

Autologous stem cell transplant may be recommended for some people with otherwise good health.

People who have a low number of red or white blood cells or platelets may need transfusions or antibiotics.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia?

The average survival is about 5 years. Some people live more than 10 years.

In some people, the disorder may produce few symptoms and progress slowly.

What are the possible complications for Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia?

Complications of WM may include:

  • Changes in mental function, possibly leading to coma
  • Heart failure
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding or malabsorption
  • Vision problems
  • Hives

When should I contact a medical professional for Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia?

Contact your provider if symptoms of WM develop.



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