What are the risk factors for Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia?
A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person’s age or family history, can’t be changed.
Researchers have found a few risk factors that make a person more likely to develop Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia (WM). But most people with these risk factors never develop the disease. Even if a patient with WM does have one or more risk factors, it is impossible to know for sure how much that risk factor contributed to causing the cancer.
Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance
Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) is an abnormality of antibody-making cells that is related to multiple myeloma and WM. In MGUS, like WM and multiple myeloma, abnormal cells in the bone marrow make large amounts of one particular antibody. This antibody is called a monoclonal (or M) protein, and the condition is called a monoclonal gammopathy. As long as the patient has no problems from the abnormal cells or the M protein they make, it is called MGUS.
Generally, the abnormal cells in MGUS make up less than 10% of the bone marrow and the amount of abnormal M protein in the blood is not very high (less than 3 g/dl). MGUS itself does not cause health problems, but each year about 1% to 2% of people with MGUS go on to develop a related cancer (like multiple myeloma, WM, or lymphoma) or another serious health problem (like amyloidosis).
The risk of WM goes up with age. It is rare among people younger than 50 years old.
WM is more common among whites than among African Americans. In contrast, multiple myeloma is about twice as common among African Americans as white Americans. The reasons for these differences are not known.
Men are more likely than women to develop this disease. The reason for this is not known.
Genetic factors may play a role. About 20% of patients with WM have a close relative with WM or with a related B-cell disease, such as MGUS or certain types of lymphoma or leukemia.
Some studies have found that people with chronic hepatitis C infection might be more likely to develop WM than people without the virus. But not all studies have found such a link.
Certain autoimmune diseases
Some research has suggested that people with certain types of autoimmune disease, such as Sjogren syndrome, might be at higher risk for WM.
Last Medical Review: 06/19/2013
Last Revised: 06/19/2013