Is Waldenstrom’s Disease?
Your immune system produces cells that protect your body against
infection. One such cell is the B lymphocyte, which is also known as a B cell.
B cells are made in the bone marrow. They migrate and mature in your lymph
nodes and spleen. They can become plasma cells, which are responsible for
releasing an antibody known as immunoglobulin M, or IgM. Antibodies are used by
your body to attack invading diseases.
In rare cases, your body may begin to produce too much IgM. When
this happens, your blood will become thicker. This is known as hyperviscosity,
and it makes it difficult for all of your organs and tissues to function
properly. This condition in which your body makes too much IgM is known as
Waldenstrom’s disease. It’s technically a type of cancer.
Waldenstrom’s disease is a rare cancer. The American
Cancer Society (ACS) reports that there are about 1,100 to 1,500 cases of
Waldenstrom’s disease diagnosed each year in the United States. The disease is
a non-Hodgkin lymphoma that grows slowly. Waldenstrom’s disease is also known
- Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia
- lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma
- primary macroglobulinemia
Are the Symptoms of Waldenstrom’s Disease?
The symptoms of Waldenstrom’s disease will vary based on the
severity of your condition. In some instances, people with this condition have
no symptoms. The most common symptoms of this disease are:
- bleeding from the gums or nose
- weight loss
- skin lesions
- skin discoloration
- swollen glands
If the amount of IgM in your body becomes severely high, you may
experience additional symptoms. These symptoms frequently occur as a result of
hyperviscosity and include:
- vision changes, including blurry vision and
- dizziness or vertigo
- changes in mental status
Are the Causes of Waldenstrom’s Disease?
Waldenstrom’s disease develops when your body overproduces IgM
antibodies. The cause of this disease is unknown.
The condition is more common among people who have family members
with the disease. This suggests it may be hereditary.
Is Waldenstrom’s Disease Diagnosed?
To diagnose this disease, your doctor will start by performing a
physical exam and ask you about your health history. Your doctor may check for
swelling in your spleen, liver, or lymph nodes during the exam.
If you have symptoms of Waldenstrom’s disease, your doctor may
order additional tests to confirm your diagnosis. These tests may include:
- blood tests to determine your level of IgM and
to evaluate the thickness of your blood
- a bone marrow biopsy
- CT scans of bones or soft tissue
- X-rays of bones or soft tissue
CT scan and X-ray of the bones and soft tissues are used to
differentiate between Waldenstrom’s disease and another type of cancer called
Is Waldenstrom’s Disease Treated?
There’s no cure for Waldenstrom’s disease. However, treatment can
be effective for controlling your symptoms. Treatment for Waldenstrom’s disease
will depend on the severity of your symptoms. If you have Waldenstrom’s disease
without any symptoms of the disorder, your doctor may not recommend any
treatment. You may not require treatment until you develop symptoms. This may
take several years.
If you have symptoms of the disease, there are several different
treatments your doctor may recommend. These include:
Chemotherapy is a medicine that destroys cells in the body that
grow quickly. You can get this treatment as a pill or intravenously, which
means through your veins. Chemotherapy for Waldenstrom’s disease is designed to
attack the abnormal cells producing the excess IgM.
Plasmapheresis, or plasma exchange, is a procedure in which
excess proteins called IgM immunoglobulins in the plasma are removed from the
blood by a machine, and the remaining plasma is combined with donor plasma and returned
to the body.
Biotherapy, or biological therapy, is used to boost the immune
system’s ability to fight cancer. It can be used with chemotherapy.
It’s possible your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the
spleen. This is called a splenectomy. People who have this procedure may be
able to reduce or eliminate their symptoms for many years. However, the
symptoms of the disease often return in people who’ve had a splenectomy.
Following your diagnosis, you should also ask your doctor about
clinical trials for new medications and procedures to treat Waldenstrom’s
disease. Clinical trials are often used to test new treatments or to
investigate new ways to use existing treatments. The National Cancer Institute
may be sponsoring clinical trials that may provide you with additional
therapies to combat the disease.
Is the Long-Term Outlook?
If you’re diagnosed with Waldenstrom’s disease, the outlook will
depend on the progression of your disease. The disease progresses at different
rates depending on the person. Those who have a slower disease progression have
a longer survival time compared with those whose disease progresses more
quickly. According to an article in Blood
Cancer Journal, the outlook for Waldenstrom’s disease can vary. Average
survival spans from five to nearly 11 years after diagnosis.