Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia is in part named for the Swedish scientist, Jan Gosta Waldenstrom, who identified the disease in the 1940s. The term macroglobulinemia comes from the characteristics of the protein molecule where the cancer is found.
Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia, or “WM” for short, is a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that involves the B-cell antibody known as immunoglobulin M (IgM). IgMs are the largest antibody protein molecule in the body and is consequently known as a macroglobulin.
WM originates in the bone marrow and most typically affects the blood, but it is also found throughout the lymph system and therefore can affect various organs and lymph nodes. This disease is a slow growing and rare cancer that typically affects older people, half of which are over the age of 60.
With WM some of the IgM molecules become cancerous and clone abnormally. Normal cell death is not programmed properly in these cells and as they multiply they clog the blood, making it thick. The thickening of the blood is known as hyperviscosity. Symptoms of the disease can include: nose bleeds, night sweats, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, blurred vision, numbness in the extremeties, enlarged liver, spleen or lymph nodes.
Until the 1990’s little was know about the disease and there was little progress in treatment options. Since the 1990’s rapid advances in medical science have greatly changed what we know about the disease and treatments options have dramatically improved patient outcomes.