Waldenström's macroglobulinemia is a rare, chronic form of lymphoma that affects blood plasma cells. It mainly strikes people aged 65 and over, and is most common in Caucasian men. Waldenström's is a low-grade, or indolent, lymphoma that spreads slowly and is easily controlled with therapy when diagnosed early.
In some cases, Waldenström's can exist for years without showing any symptoms, most of which are caused by thickened blood. Although it is a chronic condition, Waldenstrom's can become more aggressive or progress to lymphoma over time if not treated.
Having one or more of the symptoms listed above does not necessarily mean you have Waldenström’s. However, it is important to discuss any symptoms with your doctor, since they may indicate other health problems.
There are no known risk factors, other than advancing age. Waldenström's occurs when blood plasma cells begin producing abnormal amounts of a certain antibody, IgM, which causes the blood to become thick and viscous.
As with other types of non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, the most effective treatment is chemotherapy, usually a combination of two or more drugs. In some cases, a patient's plasma is removed and replaced with a substitute, in a procedure known as plasmapheresis. A bone marrow transplant may be required for younger patients. Interferon alpha, an immunotherapy that uses the body's own defenses to fight disease, is showing promise in people with Waldenström's macroglobulinemia.
Cancer is a journey that no one needs to take alone. There are many forms of support to help you through every stage: diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. Whether you meet with other cancer survivors like yourself, use complementary therapies or individual coping mechanisms, help is available in many forms. Listed below are just some of the ways to find help...and hope.
Getting together with other cancer patients in a support group is a valuable coping tool. Support groups are usually focused on a single disease or topic, such as breast cancer survivors or people coping with life-changing side effects from their cancer or cancer therapy. These groups allow participants to meet others like themselves and seek strength from each other. Most major cities and cancer hospitals offer support groups that meet weekly or monthly. There are also dozens of online support web sites or message boards for those who may not have access to a traditional meeting.
Complementary therapies are used in conjunction with cancer treatment, in an effort to reduce treatment side effects, ease depression and anxiety and help cancer patients take their mind off the negative aspects of their situation. Complementary therapies may include mind-body exercises like yoga, tai chi and Qi gong; visualization or guided imagery; using art or music as therapy and self-expression, and traditional Eastern medicine such as acupuncture.
Staying physically active as much as possible during cancer treatment has many positive benefits. Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, a hormone that helps elevate mood, as well as decreasing feelings of fatigue.
Exercises for cancer patients can range from simple stretches done in the bed or chair, to more active pursuits such as walking or light gardening work. However, it’s important not to push yourself too hard. Check with your doctor before attempting any physical activity to make sure you are up to it.
Many people find it helpful to keep a journal of their cancer treatment experience. It may be as simple as recording symptoms and side effects into a notebook, or may include personal emotions and opinions about what they may be going through. Journals can be private, like a diary, or shared with loved ones and even strangers.
Increasingly, people are turning to the Internet to share their cancer journey with the world at large and to seek out others with similar experiences. Many cancer patients have begun their own web log, or “blog” to publicize their battle with cancer. Twitter, a mini-blogging technology that limits posts to 140 characters, has also proven to be a helpful tool for cancer patients to keep friends updated and reach out to others.