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Waldenström's Macroglobulinemia

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 9/2013
Overview

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some basic information about this disease and the parts of the body it may affect. This is the first page of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Waldenström’s Macroglobulinemia. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen. Think of that menu as a roadmap to this full guide.

Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) that affects small lymphocytes (white blood cells).

About lymphoma and the lymph system

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is a term that refers to many types of cancer of the lymphatic system, which can have different symptoms and signs, physical findings, and treatment options.

The lymphatic system is made up of thin tubes that branch out to all parts of the body and helps fight infection. The lymphatic system carries lymph, a colorless fluid containing lymphocytes. Lymphocytes fight germs in the body. B-lymphocytes (also called B-cells) make antibodies, and T-lymphocytes (also called T-cells) destroy viruses and foreign cells and regulate the B-cells to make antibodies.

Groups of bean-shaped organs called lymph nodes are located throughout the body at different sites in the lymphatic system. Lymph nodes are found in clusters in the abdomen, groin, pelvis, underarms, and neck. Other parts of the lymphatic system include the spleen, which makes lymphocytes and filters blood; the thymus, an organ under the breastbone; and the tonsils, located in the throat.

About Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia

Lymphoma begins when cells in the lymphatic system change and grow uncontrollably, which may form a tumor.

In Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia, the lymphocytes are similar in shape to plasma cells. Plasma cells make antibodies, which are specialized proteins that help make viruses and bacteria harmless to the body. Specifically, plasma cells make an antibody called immunoglobulin M (IgM). Another name for Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia is lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma. It is classified as an indolent (low-grade) type of lymphoma. Learn more about the subtypes of NHL.

Because lymphatic tissue is found in so many parts of the body, Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia can start almost anywhere and may spread to almost any organ in the body. When people are first diagnosed with the disease, it has usually already spread to the blood and bone marrow. It may also eventually affect the lymph nodes, liver, or spleen, as well as the stomach, intestines, and lungs. Rarely, Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia spreads to the skin or thyroid gland.

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