WM: The Latest Treatment Approaches

Recently the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), in coordination with the International Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia Foundation (IWMF), hosted its Waldenström’s Macrogloblinemia (WM) Patient Education Program webinar on April 7th, 2021. Patient Worthy had the privilege of listening in on this event, which provided a valuable overview of the latest therapies for the disease as of 2021, as well as a patient panel providing first-hand accounts.

About WM

Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia (WM), which is also known as lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma, is a rare type of blood cancer that affects two types of B lymphocytes, including plasma cells and lymphoplasmacytoid cells. A distinct characteristic of this type of cancer is the presence of a high concentration of IgM antibodies. It is a slow-progressing form of blood cancer, and many patients can lead active lives. While it cannot be cured, it is treatable; some patients are able to experience years of remission without symptoms. There are only about 1,500 new cases per year in the U.S. Although it mostly occurs due to sporadic genetic mutations, a family history increases risk. Symptoms include vision loss, headaches, enlargement of the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen, bleeding nose and gums, weight loss, fatigue, and general weakness. To learn more about WM, click here.

The Latest Treatments

Dr. Edward Stadtmauer started off the webinar by providing an overview of treatments commonly employed in WM. He makes it clear that treatment for the disease generally is only initiated once a patient has begun experiencing pronounced signs or symptoms, such as changes in platelets, anemia, thickened blood, or neuropathy.

Dr. Stadtmauer addressed a number of possible therapeutic options for WM. Chemotherapy, for example, has been used quite successfully in WM, but it still carries the risk of toxicity and adverse effects. Other therapies for WM may include:

  • Proteasome inhibitors
  • Immunotherapy
  • Monoclonal antibodies
  • Corticosteroids
  • Bone marrow transplant (uncommon)

Combination therapies may be employed in order to produce the most durable and deep responses possible in WM. Chemotherapy combined with an immunotherapy/monoclonal antibody is a common example. For his patients, Dr. Stadtmauer says that his go-to options are ibrutinib, a Bruton’s tyrosine kinase inhibitor known for producing fast responses with fewer side effects; and rituximab (a monoclonal antibody) with bendamustine (a chemotherapy agent).

Patient Panel

WM patient Laurence and his wife Judie spoke as part of the patient panel. Laurence was diagnosed with WM as the COVID pandemic began, and they both wound up getting infected. They advised others to seek trustworthy info sources online and to listen to their bodies.

Another patient, Roy Langhans, was using rituximab + bendamustine and has been in remission for more than three years. Over the years, he has tried four different therapies. He advised listeners to make sure that they were communicating with doctors that had expertise and experience with WM. Roy also emphasized the importance of patient education and understanding that, for many patients, WM behaves more like a long-term chronic illness as opposed to a cancer. 

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