Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia (WM) is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). The cancer cells make large amounts of an abnormal protein (called a macroglobulin). Another name for WM is lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma. This condition used to be called Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia, so some people refer to it as Waldenstrom’s.
To understand WM, it helps to know about the functions of lymphoid tissue in the body.
Lymphoid tissue is made up several types of immune system cells that work together to help the body resist infections. Lymphoid tissue is found in many places in the body:
Lymphocytes (lymph cells) are the main cells of lymphoid tissue. The 2 main types of lymphocytes are:
WM is a cancer that starts in B cells. The cancer cells in people with WM are similar to those of 2 other types of cancer: multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Multiple myeloma is considered a cancer of plasma cells, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer of lymphocytes. WM cells have features of both plasma cells and lymphocytes and are called lymphoplasmacytoid.
WM cells make large amounts of a certain type of antibody (immunoglobulin M, or IgM), which is known as a macroglobulin. Each antibody (protein) made by the WM cells is the same, so it is called a monoclonal protein, or just an M protein. The buildup of this M protein in the body can lead to many of the symptoms of WM, including excess bleeding, problems with vision, and nervous system problems.
The WM cells grow mainly in the bone marrow, where they can crowd out the normal cells that make the different types of blood cells. This can lead to low levels of red blood cells (called anemia), which can make people feel tired and weak. It can also cause low numbers of white blood cells, which makes it hard for the body to fight infection. The numbers of platelets in the blood can also drop, leading to increased bleeding and bruising.
Lymphoma cells can also grow in organs like the liver and spleen, causing these organs to swell and leading to abdominal pain. (For more on the symptoms of WM, see Signs and Symptoms of Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia.)
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Freedman AS, Jacobson CA, Mauch P, Aster JC. Chapter 103: Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In: DeVita VT, Hellman S, Rosenberg SA, eds. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015.
Rajkumar SV, Dispenzieri A. Chapter 104: Multiple myeloma and related disorders. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Dorshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa. Elsevier: 2014.
Last Revised: July 19, 2018
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