Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia (mak-roe-glob-u-lih-NEE-me-uh) is a rare 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.
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
- Weight loss
- Numbness in your hands or feet
- Shortness of breath
- Changes in vision
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs and symptoms that worry you.
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.
Factors that may increase your risk of Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia include:
- 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.