The International Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia Foundation finds that half of the people diagnosed with this cancer have a survival rate of 14 to 16 years.
The five-year survival rate of Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia is about 78 percent, which means that 78 percent of people diagnosed with the condition lived for at least five years after their diagnosis. The survival rate of any disease is calculated by a large study in which the lifespan of a large population, who are diagnosed with the disease, is observed for a specific timeframe.
According to the International Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia Foundation (IWMF), half of the people diagnosed with this type of cancer are seen to survive for approximately 14 to 16 years.
For example, the five-year survival rate (as shown in Table 1) of low-risk Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia is 87 percent, which means that 87 out of 100 people with this type of cancer could live for at least five years.
Doctors look at the following factors to determine how long you can live with Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia:
- Blood hemoglobin level
- Platelet count
- Beta-2 microglobulin level
- Serum (blood) monoclonal Immunoglobulin M (IgM) level
Each parameter mentioned above, except age, is given one point. Depending on the points you garner, doctors will categorize your disease as low, intermediate or high risk. Age is an independent risk factor, and older people often have a poorer prognosis than younger patients.
Remember, these survival rates are only estimates. They can’t predict the exact period of time you can live with the condition. How long you can survive depends on your body’s response to cancer therapy and your inherent immune status. Discuss with your doctor to better understand your specific situation.
What happens in Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia?
Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia is a rare form of blood cancer that causes your bone marrow to produce too many abnormal white blood cells. This interferes with the production of healthy blood cells.
In addition, the abnormal white blood cells produce a protein (Immunoglobulin M [IgM]) that gets accumulated in the blood. This protein increases the viscosity (thickness) of your blood and impairs circulation, resulting in various complications including poor brain circulation and heart and kidney problems.
Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia is a type of slow-growing cancer that takes years to develop, which shows signs and symptoms that include:
- Easy bruising
- Bleeding from the nose or gums
- Numbness in your hands or feet
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Changes in vision
How is Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia treated?
Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia does not always require treatment. If you have increased Immunoglobulin M (IgM) proteins in your blood but have not yet developed any signs and symptoms, your doctor may recommend waiting before seeking treatment. If you choose to wait, you will have to undergo blood tests every few months to check whether the cancer is progressing. This type of wait-and-watch approach is referred to as observation.
If you do seek treatment, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following options for Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia:
- Plasma exchange: This involves plasmapheresis (plasma exchange) to remove IgM proteins and replace them with healthy blood plasma.
- Chemotherapy: This involves using medications that kill the abnormal blood cells.
- Targeted therapy: This involves using medications that kill cancer cells by targeting specific abnormalities or processes responsible for the formation of cancer cells.
- Biological therapy: This involves using drugs that target your immune system to kill cancer cells.
- Stem cell transplant: This treatment is reserved only for special selective cases. It involves using blood-forming stem cells from your own body or another person. This helps form healthy bone marrow that can produce healthy blood cells.
Another option for finding the latest treatment is to get enrolled in an ongoing clinical trial for Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia. You can ask your doctor about getting enrolled in one, or your doctor may also give you a list of ongoing clinical trials that may best suit you.