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Waldenström's Macroglobulinemia

Understanding Myeloma Cells

Waldenström's macroglobulinemia, like other cancers, begins in cells. Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old, they die, and new cells take their place. In cancer, this orderly process goes wrong -- new cells form when the body does not need them, and old cells do not die when they should. These extra cells can form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.
Waldenström's macroglobulinemia begins when a plasma cell becomes abnormal. The abnormal cell divides to make copies of itself, dividing again and again, making more and more abnormal cells. The abnormal plasma cells are myeloma cells. Myeloma cells make antibodies called monoclonal macroglobulin (IgM) antibody. High levels of IgM in the blood cause hyperviscosity (thickness or gumminess), which leads to symptoms of Waldenström's macroglobulinemia.

How Common Is Waldenström's Macroglobulinemia?

Waldenström's macroglobulinemia is a rare cancer. Approximately 1,500 new cases are diagnosed annually in the United States. The incidence of WM is higher in males and Caucasians than in African Americans and women, and the incidence increases sharply with age. The median age at diagnosis is 63 (half of the cases are diagnosed before age 63, and half are diagnosed after age 63).

What Causes Waldenström's Macroglobulinemia?

No one knows the exact cause or causes of Waldenström's macroglobulinemia. Doctors can seldom explain why one person will get WM and another person will not. Waldenström's macroglobulinemia research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop WM. A risk factor is anything that increases a person's chances of developing a disease.
Specific risk factors for Waldenström's macroglobulinemia include having one or more of the following:
  • Hepatitis C
  • Cryoglobulinemia
  • A family history of Waldenström's macroglobulinemia.
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