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What is Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinaemia (WM)?

What is WM
Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinaemia (WM) is a rare type of blood cancer. It develops when some of the body’s white blood cells change and grow out of control.

On this page:

  • What is Waldenstrom's macroglobulinaemia?
  • Who is affected by Waldenstrom's macroglobulinaemia?
  • What causes Waldenstrom's macroglobulinaemia
  • Find out more

What is Waldenstrom's macroglobulinaemia?

Waldenstrom's macroglobulinaemia (WM) is sometimes called lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma and is one of the family of cancers of the lymphatic system known as Non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL). Doctors may use any of these terms when discussing your WM with you.

It is a slow-growing cancer with its own distinct characteristics that require specialised treatment and care.

Jan Waldenström was the Swedish doctor who first described the disease in 1944 and lent it his name; “macroglobulinaemia” refers to the high levels of immunoglobulin M (IgM) seen in the blood stream of 95% of WM patients.

IgM is natural, it is produced by B cells in the bone marrow to fight infection. However, in WM, defective ‘B’ cells produce large quantities of non-functional IgM paraproteins which are not useful to the body and can cause damage.

Who is affected by Waldenstrom's macroglobulinaemia?

  • Around 400 people are diagnosed with WM each year in the UK.
  • It is estimated that 4000 people are currently living with WM in the UK.
  • Traditionally viewed as a disease that affects people over the age of 65, it is now increasingly seen in younger age groups.
  • It is more common in men than women.

What causes Waldenstrom's macroglobulinaemia?

The cause of Waldenstrom's macroglobulinaemia (WM) is still unknown. It is not infectious and cannot be passed onto other people.

Read more about what causes WM here.

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