Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia

Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia, or WM, is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) where cancer cells produce abnormally high protein levels (called macroglobulin). Experts also call WM lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma.

Last Updated: September 27, 2023

Lymphoid tissue is made up of several types of immune system cells that work together to assist the body in resisting infections.

People over the age of 65 make up the majority of those diagnosed with Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia. Men are more prone to develop WM than women.

Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia has no clear cause. According to experts, the disease starts with a single abnormal white blood cell that acquires mutations. 

Unlike typical cells, cancer cells do not self-destruct, leading to ultimate high counts of unhealthy tissue. As a result, Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia cells outnumber healthy blood cells in the bone marrow (the spongy, blood-making tissue that occupies the middle of most bones).

The most common signs and symptoms are:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • The tingling sensation of the tips of the fingers and toes
  • Nosebleeds 
  • Bleeding gums
  • headache and a fainting sensation
  • The blurring of vision or loss of vision
  • Hepatic or splenic enlargement
  • Lymph node swelling

Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia can be detected by tests and procedures, including:

Testing the blood could reveal a deficiency in healthy red blood cells. The IgM proteins made by cancer cells can also be detected in the blood. A doctor can check if the IgM proteins are hurting your kidneys and liver through blood tests that assess organ function.

Another procedure is called bone marrow biopsy. A doctor will use a needle to remove part of the bone marrow accessing from the hipbone. The tissue is analyzed for the presence of cancer cells.

If the doctor suspects that cancer has spread to other parts of the body, imaging tests are done to confirm the suspicion. CT scans and PET scans are examples of imaging tests that may be performed.


There are many ways to treat WM, such as:

  • Through plasmapheresis (plasma exchange), doctors can remove aberrant M proteins from the plasma. They put the plasma back into the blood, and symptoms related to blood thickening can be improved with this therapy
  • Chemotherapy is a treatment where doctors give cancer-killing drugs
  • Immunotherapy treats WM by stimulating the immune system to attack and kill off WM cells.
  • Targeted therapy refers to drugs that selectively kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.
  • Radiation therapy is a treatment method in which powerful beams of energy are used to kill cancer cells.
  • A bone marrow transplant (also known as a stem cell transplant) involves the replacement of diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow.

Most Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia (WM) risk factors, such as age or MGUS, can not be modified or regulated; therefore there is no way to prevent cancer.

Some studies suggest hepatitis C may increase WM risk. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but one can minimize the risk by avoiding injectable drug use and unprotected intercourse with several partners. 



American Cancer Society (2022). Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia. Retrieved December 23, 2022, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/waldenstrom-macroglobulinemia.html


Mayo Clinic (2022). Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia. Retrieved December 23, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/waldenstrom-macroglobulinemia/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20359986


Cleveland Clinic (2022). Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia. Retrieved December 23, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17951-waldenstrom-macroglobulinemia

Last Updated: September 27, 2023