What is Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia?

Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia (WM) is a cancer of blood cells. It is classified as a lymphoma because it arises from mature B-lymphocytes (aka, “B-cells”). These cells grow uncontrollably primarily in the bone marrow, but also in the lymph nodes, liver and spleen in some cases. These cells also overproduce an IgM antibody.

The manifestations of WM are due to both growth of the cancerous B-cells and the overproduction of the antibody.

The growth of the cancerous B-cells in the bone marrow leads to low blood counts. The growth of the cancerous B-cells can also lead to enlarged liver, spleen and lymph nodes throughout the body.

Overproduction of the IgM antibody may cause the blood to become thick, a condition called hyperviscosity. This condition makes it difficult for blood to flow throughout certain parts of the body. The antibody may also attack certain tissues in the body and cause inflammation or injury.

Under the microscope, WM cells also have features of plasma cells, which are the most mature type of B-cells. For this reason, WM cells are considered to be “lymphoplasmacytic”.

Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia is a rare condition diagnosed in less than 1,500 people in the US annually.

Symptoms of Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia

Symptoms of Waldenstrom’s may include some or all of the following:

  • Decrease in vision
  • Weight loss without trying
  • Numbness in extremities
  • Tiredness
  • Bluish skin
  • Swollen spleen, glands
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Low red blood cell count (anemia)
    • Weakness, dizziness
  • Low white blood cells (leukopenia)
    • Frequent infections
  • Low platelet count (thrombocytopenia)
    • Frequent bleeding

Learn more about Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia and its treatment at Penn Medicine.

Other Names for Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia

  • Waldenstrom’s 
  • Lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma
  • Immunocytoma