Your immune system produces cells that protect your body against infection. One such cell is the B lymphocyte, which is also known as a B cell.

B cells are made in the bone marrow, where they migrate to your lymph nodes and spleen and mature. They can become plasma cells, which are responsible for releasing an antibody known as immunoglobulin M, or IgM. Your body uses antibodies to attack invading diseases.

In rare cases, your body may begin to produce too much IgM. When this happens, your blood will become thicker. This is known as hyperviscosity, and it makes it difficult for all of your organs and tissues to function properly. This condition is known as Waldenstrom’s disease, and it’s a type of cancer.

Waldenstrom’s disease is a rare cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that there are between 1,100 to 1,500 cases of Waldenstrom’s disease diagnosed each year in the United States.

The disease is a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that grows slowly. Waldenstrom’s disease is also known as:

  • Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia
  • lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma
  • primary macroglobulinemia

The symptoms of Waldenstrom’s disease will vary based on the severity of your condition. In some instances, people with this condition have no symptoms. Some common symptoms of this disease are:

  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • fever
  • sweats
  • weight loss
  • neuropathy

Some less common symptoms include:

  • bleeding from the gums or nose
  • bruises
  • skin lesions
  • skin discoloration
  • swollen glands
  • heart problems
  • kidney problems
  • digestive symptoms

If the amount of IgM in your body becomes severely high, you may experience additional symptoms. These symptoms frequently occur as a result of hyperviscosity and include:

  • vision changes, like blurry vision and vision loss
  • headaches
  • dizziness or vertigo
  • changes in mental status

Waldenstrom’s disease develops when your body overproduces IgM antibodies. The cause of this disease is unknown.

The condition is more common among people who have family members with the disease. This suggests that it may be hereditary.

To diagnose this disease, your doctor will start by performing a physical exam and ask you about your health history. Your doctor may check for swelling in your spleen, liver, or lymph nodes during the exam.

If you have symptoms of Waldenstrom’s disease, your doctor may order additional tests to confirm your diagnosis. These tests may include:

  • blood tests to determine your level of IgM and to evaluate the thickness of your blood
  • a bone marrow biopsy
  • CT scans of bones or soft tissue
  • X-rays of bones or soft tissue

CT scan and X-ray of the bones and soft tissues are used to differentiate between Waldenstrom’s disease and another type of cancer called multiple myeloma.

There’s no cure for Waldenstrom’s disease. However, treatment can be effective at managing your symptoms.

Treatment for Waldenstrom’s disease will depend on the severity of your symptoms. If you have Waldenstrom’s disease without any symptoms of the disorder, your doctor may not recommend any treatment. You may not require treatment until you develop symptoms, which may take several years.

If you have symptoms of the disease, there are several different treatments your doctor may recommend. These include:

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a drug that destroys cells in the body that grow quickly. You can get this treatment as a pill or intravenously, which means through your veins.

Chemotherapy for Waldenstrom’s disease is designed to attack the abnormal cells producing the excess IgM.

Plasmapheresis

Plasmapheresis, or plasma exchange, is a procedure in which excess proteins called IgM immunoglobulins in the plasma are removed from the blood by a machine, and the remaining plasma is combined with donor plasma and returned to the body.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is used to boost the immune system’s ability to fight cancer. It can be used with chemotherapy.

Surgery

It’s possible your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the spleen. This is called a splenectomy. People who have this procedure may be able to reduce or eliminate their symptoms for many years.

However, the symptoms of the disease often return in people who’ve had a splenectomy.

Clinical trials

Following your diagnosis, you should also ask your doctor about clinical trials for new medications and procedures to treat Waldenstrom’s disease. Clinical trials are often used to test new treatments or to investigate new ways to use existing treatments.

The National Cancer Institute may be sponsoring clinical trials that may provide you with additional therapies to treat the disease.

If you’re diagnosed with Waldenstrom’s disease, the outlook will depend on the progression of your case. The disease progresses at different rates depending on the person. Those who have a slower disease progression have a longer survival time compared with those whose disease progresses more quickly.

According to an article in Blood Cancer Journal, the outlook for Waldenstrom’s disease can vary. Average survival spans from 4 to 12 years after diagnosis.

With the help of your doctor and medical team, you can treat and manage your symptoms as well as explore new clinical trials.