Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia (WM), also known as lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma, is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It is very uncommon, slow-growing cancer that begins in the immune system. Abnormal white blood cells (lymphocytes) in the bone marrow make an abnormal protein called monoclonal immunoglobulin M (IgM) that thickens the blood plasma. This causes the symptoms of Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia.
Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia cells develop mainly in the bone marrow, where they can crowd out the normal cells that make the different types of blood cells. This can cause low levels of red blood cells, effects of which may make people tired and weak. It can also cause low numbers of white blood cells, which makes it difficult for the body to fight infection.
The most common signs and symptoms of Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia include:
Diagnosis of Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia
Diagnoses of Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia include a series of examinations and tests
- Your doctor will perform a physical exam to determine any health changes you may have, such as enlarged lymph nodes.
- Lab tests show changes in your blood cells, blood chemistry and your urine. These tests also tell your doctor if you have the IgM protein, a sign of Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia.
- A bone marrow biopsy can tell your doctor about changes in the lymphocyte cells in your bone marrow.
- X-rays can show your doctor any changes in your bones.
- A CT scan combines a series of X-ray views to produce images of the bones and soft tissues inside your body so that your doctor can look for changes.
Once you have been diagnosed with Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia, it’s time for the doctor to discuss your treatment options with you. These may include:
- Chemotherapy: In chemotherapy, medicines are used that attack abnormal cells to reduce their effect on healthy bone marrow and lower the level of abnormal protein. It can be taken intravenously or in the form of a pill.
- Plasma exchange: If thickening of the blood causes problems, plasma exchange can be used to wash the IgM protein out of your bloodstream and replace it with healthy plasma. It is very effective procedure which requires only one or two treatments to lower blood protein levels.
- Biotherapy: Biotherapy may be used alone or in coordination with chemotherapy. Biological therapy, as it is often known, boosts your immune system's ability to fight cancer and help decrease side effects from certain types of cancer treatments.
- Radiation therapy: It uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. However, this type of treatment is not used often to treat Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia.
Current forms of treatment for Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia are not likely to result in a cure. Patients are treated for some time, followed by a break, and then treated again when the disease comes back.