Diagnosis and management of Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia

J Clin Oncol. 2005 Mar 1;23(7):1564-77. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2005.03.144.


Purpose: To review the diagnostic criteria, prognostic factors, response criteria, and treatment options of patients with Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia (WM).

Methods: A review of published reports was facilitated by the use of a MEDLINE computer search and by manual search of the Index Medicus.

Results: WM should be regarded as a distinct clinicopathologic entity and confined to those patients with lymphoplasmacytoid lymphoma who have demonstrable serum immunoglobulin M monoclonal protein. Treatment decisions should rely on specific clinical and laboratory criteria. Initiation of therapy should not be based on serum monoclonal protein levels per se. The three main choices for systemic primary treatment of symptomatic patients with WM include alkylating agents (chlorambucil), nucleoside analogs (fludarabine and cladribine), and the monoclonal antibody rituximab. There are no data from prospective randomized studies to recommend the use of one first-line agent over another, although consideration of a patient's candidacy for autologous stem-cell transplantation (ASCT) should be taken into account to avoid stem cell-damaging agents. There are preliminary data to suggest that combinations of nucleoside analogs and alkylating agents with or without rituximab may improve response rates at the expense of higher toxicity.

Conclusion: WM is a distinct low-grade lymphoproliferative disorder. When therapy is indicated, alkylating agents, nucleoside analogs, and rituximab are reasonable choices. Several factors, including the presence of cytopenias, need for rapid disease control, candidacy for ASCT, age, and comorbidities, should be taken into consideration when choosing the most appropriate primary treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alkylating Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin M / blood
  • Interferon-alpha / therapeutic use
  • Prognosis
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Rituximab
  • Stem Cell Transplantation
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia / diagnosis*
  • Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia / therapy*


  • Alkylating Agents
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Immunoglobulin M
  • Interferon-alpha
  • Rituximab