Waldenström's macroglobulinemia – A Rare Blood Cancer That Can Lead To Strokes

A few days ago Bob asked the following question in the health forums:

Hi Guys,
My mother, after having a mild stroke, was said to have “Hyperviscosity” of her blood.
The doctors are still not sure, but they say she has “Waeldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia” or something like that.
Is it common? Never heard of it. BTW she's 68 YO.
I would really like to know if there's a cure for it.
Thanks DAD dudes!!
Bob

 

Read on, Bob, to find out about the disease.

Danger level: High

Health forums category: Cancer

What is it?

Waldesntrom’s macroglobulinemia (WM) is a type of cancer in the blood.

Who gets it?

The disease is quite rare – only about 1,500 cases are diagnosed in the US each year (in the UK, about 10 people out of a million get it each year).

It’s more common in white people (only about 5% of patients are of African origin).

WM is a little more common in men than in women, and it tends to happen around age 65.

What causes it?

Our blood contains many types of cells. One of these types is white blood cells. These cells belong to our immune system and are meant to fight infections.

Like there are many types of cells in the blood, there also several types of white blood cells (five types, actually). One of these types is lymphocytes. To make things even more complicated, lymphocytes themselves are divided into T cells and B cells (and that’s where the complication stops).

lymphocyte

Lymphocytes. In WM, this cell goes bad.

WM is a disease of B cell lymphocytes. There are 2 problems these cells cause in this disease:

  1. B cells produce molecules called antibodies. Think of them as the weapons used by these cells to kill the bad guys. There is a type of antibody called IGM, which looks something like this:
    igm 
    In WM B cells create too much of this antibody. The blood is then filled with these IGMs floating about. Because of their large structure, they cause the blood to become less liquid and more sticky, or viscous. The condition is then called hyperviscosity syndrome. This can lead to things such as nosebleed, dizziness, gum bleeding and blurred vision.
  2. In WM, like in other cancers, B cells multiply uncontrollably. They start infiltrating organs in the body.

How does it feel?

Some people don’t feel anything when they have WM. When people do have symptoms, they can include:

a. Weakness

b. Fatigue

c. Bleeding from the nose or gums

d. Weight loss

e. Bruises in the skin

When the condition is more severe (meaning the blood is thicker) other things which may occur include:

a. Blurring or loss of vision

b. Neurological problems – These include headaches, dizziness, and vertigo.

c. Sometimes a stroke or coma may also ensue.

How is it discovered?

A few tests are done to discover WM:

  1. Blood tests: They discover, among other things, the high level of IGM in the blood.
  2. A bone marrow biopsy: A sample of bone from the back of the pelvis is taken using a needle. It is then examined under a microscope.

How is it treated?

There’s no cure for WM. If someone doesn’t have any symptoms, usually no treatment is needed. If symptoms are present, though, usually chemotherapy is used.

In cases of hyperviscosity syndrome, where high levels of IGM are present in the blood, a treatment called plasmapharesis is used. In it blood from the patient is removed and circulated through a machine that separates the plasma (which contains the IGMs) from other parts of the blood (such as red and white blood cells). The blood cells are then returned to the patient, along with a plasma substitute.

What happens after treatment?

With treatment, people may live with the disease for longer than 10 years (this is considered good, since in the past people only survived for about 5 years after the diagnosis).


The bottom line – How do I avoid It?

Unfortunately, there is no known way to prevent WM.

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Posted in Blood
 

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