Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia is a form of cancer, specifically a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It is also sometimes referred to as lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma. This type of cancer affects what are known as B lymphocytes. These are a specific type of white blood cell in the body.
Because Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia affects the white blood cells, it can occur or originate virtually anywhere in the body and can affect any or all organs in the body. When a person suffers from this particular type of lymphoma, they are producing too much of what is known as macroglobulin (immunoglobulin M or IgM).
Generally, the cancer cells produced by Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia grow in the bone marrow first. As they grow and reproduce, they take up all of the room for the other cells in bone marrow that make other types of blood cells. This can lead to a lack of red blood cells or plasma, which in turn affects health.
Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia is a slow-growing form of lymphoma. However, because of this slow growth rate and the potential for the cancer to start virtually anywhere in the body, this type of lymphoma is often quite advanced when discovered and may have already spread throughout large areas of the body and into organs like the liver, spleen, and intestines (among others).
Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia can cause anemia, which is a lack of sufficient red blood cells in the body. This can cause a person to feel extreme fatigue and weakness. Other symptoms of Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia include unintended weight loss, blurred vision, diarrhea, abdominal swelling, swollen or enlarged lymph nodes, and headaches or dizziness.
Because Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia is a cancer in the blood and lymph system, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, bluish skin, easy bruising, raised skin lesions, and skin rashes with or without itching are also common signs.
While research is still ongoing, there are no known causes directly related to the appearance of Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia (WM). Researchers suspect that multiple factors contribute to the manifestation of WM, evolving from a combination of genetic, environmental, and occupational elements.
These factors can’t be said to directly cause WM, but scientists caution that those possessing these factors are notably more susceptible to developing WM than those outside of the risk pool.
Those with an increased risk of developing WM are white males, though women and black individuals have shown rare instances of developing the disease. There is limited data available as to the propensity for WM occurring in other ethnic groups.
Additionally, when monoclonal IgM is detected in the blood, but no bone marrow malignancy is present, the possibility of the body developing WM and other B-cell malignancies is multiplied, growing more likely with the passage of time. Progression of WM is increased by a likelihood of 10% at 5 years, 18% at 10 years, and 24% at 15 years.
Age may also play a factor. Most individuals are diagnosed after 65, but there have been WM patients as young as 18 years old.
The exact treatment used for Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia depends on the stage of the cancer and the aggressiveness of it. Oftentimes, a procedure called plasmapheresis can be used to remove the high levels of IgM from the person’s blood. This helps to reduce blood thickening and can manage symptoms of Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia.
Chemotherapy can also help to stop cancer cells from reproducing and growing and will kill existing cancer cells. Sometimes, doctors will combine high-dose chemotherapy treatments with stem cell transplants to get rid of the Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia and replace the cells destroyed through cancer and chemotherapy with healthy once.
Targeted therapies are also options in some cases of Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia. This type of treatment focuses on a specific gene or protein in the cancer cells and attacks that unique genetic or protein signature. These types of treatments may help to spare healthy cells in the body from sustaining damage during cancer treatment. Blood transfusions and antibiotic treatments may also be necessary treatments for Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia.
As genetic factors are suspected to play a significant part in the development of WM, prevention is largely unlikely, though there are lifestyle changes that may decrease the likelihood of contracting the disease. The presence of Hepatitis C in a subject’s body has been linked to a greater risk for developing WM, so it’s recommended that at-risk individuals take special care to avoid contracting Hepatitis C.
As there is currently no vaccine for Hepatitis C, healthcare professionals recommend avoiding drug use, especially in the case of drugs that require needle injections, and avoiding promiscuous sex, or sex with multiple partners. By limiting exposure to Hepatitis C, the risk of contracting WM can also be avoided.