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Waldenström's Macroglobulinemia Facts

Waldenström's macroglobulinemia is a type of lymphoma. According to the American Cancer Society, about six people per 1 million get the disease each year in this country. Between 1,000 and 1,500 people in the United States are diagnosed with Waldenström's macroglobulinemia annually.

Waldenström's mainly strikes people age 65 and over. It is found most often in white men. A low-grade, or indolent, lymphoma, it spreads slowly and usually is controlled easily when diagnosed early.

This chronic form of lymphoma affects blood lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. Waldenström's macroglobulinemia cancer cells are similar to cancer cells in multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

In Waldenström’s, the body produces too much of a protein called immunoglobulin M (IgM). When this protein builds up, the blood can become thick. This makes it difficult for the blood to move through the blood vessels.

Waldenström's macroglobulinemia cells can grow in the liver, spleen and lymph nodes, causing them to swell. They also can grow in the bone marrow, crowding out normal cells. When this happens, levels of red blood cells (which carry oxygen through the body) or white blood cells (which help the body fight infection) may fall. Levels of platelets, a type of blood cell needed to stop bleeding, also may fall.

Waldenström’s Macroglobulinemia Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia cancer is a risk factor. Although Waldenström’s has no proven risk factors, certain things seem to make you more likely to develop it.

  • Age: People over age 50 get Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia more often.
  • Race: Waldenström’s is more common in white people.
  • Gender: Men are more likely to develop Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia.
  • Family history of Waldenström’s or another type of lymphoma

Not everyone with risk factors gets Waldenström’s. However, if you have risk factors, it’s a good idea to discuss them with your doctor.

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