AL amyloidosis is a form of cancer that happens when abnormal proteins deposit in your organs. The Washington University Amyloid Center is among the few places in the country capable of treating this rare condition. Our experienced team offers leading-edge treatments to help improve your symptoms.
What Is AL (Primary) Amyloidosis?
AL amyloidosis (also known as primary amyloidosis) starts in the bone marrow, the soft tissue inside your bones. Bone marrow makes all of your blood cells, including cells that create antibodies to fight infections.
These cells can grow abnormally, causing an excess type of protein called light chains. If you have AL amyloidosis, the light chains clump together and form amyloid deposits in your organs.
Amyloid deposits can become so severe they cause organ failure, which is when your organs stop working effectively. While there is no cure for AL amyloidosis, treatment can slow the formation of deposits and lower your risk for organ failure.
AL Amyloidosis Diagnosis and Treatment: Why Choose Us?
You receive care from doctors who are nationally recognized amyloidosis experts. We are advancing amyloidosis care through research, including testing new treatments in clinical trials. You benefit from the latest treatments and receive care from some of the top doctors in the field.
At our center, you’ll find:
- Team approach: Our team includes Washington University Physicians specializing in cancer care, bone marrow disorders, nephrology and cardiology. Our doctors have years of experience caring for patients with AL amyloidosis. We work together to detect the earliest signs so you can avoid complications. We meet regularly to coordinate care that addresses all of your symptoms, helping you feel better. Meet our team.
- Access to clinical trials: We are often among the first places in the country offering clinical trials for amyloidosis. These studies may include new approaches to diagnosing the disease and medications that give you more options for healing.
- Personalized care: We perform thorough evaluations, including tests that confirm or rule out amyloidosis. Our doctors use this information to tailor care to your needs. We monitor your response to treatments, so you receive timely care, even if your needs change. Learn more about amyloidosis diagnosis and treatment.
AL Amyloidosis Symptoms
Light chain amyloid deposits occur gradually, which is why you may not notice symptoms at first. The symptoms you experience depend on where the amyloid deposits occur and you may experience symptoms in multiple areas of your body.
With AL amyloidosis, light chain deposits often affect the:
If the deposits are in the heart, there may be:
Light chain proteins in the kidneys may cause damage leading to nephrotic syndrome or kidney dysfunction.
Amyloid in the kidneys may cause:
- Protein in the urine
- Swelling in your arms, legs, lungs or stomach
- Kidney failure
If AL amyloidosis affects your digestive system, you may have:
Light chain deposits can cause nerve damage resulting in:
- Numbness, tingling or pain
- A loss of sensitivity to hot and cold
- Dizziness when moving from a seated to a standing position
Other symptoms of AL amyloidosis may include:
- An enlarged tongue
- Purpura, which causes the skin around the eyes to become unusually dark
- Ongoing tiredness (fatigue)
- Chronic constipation, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- Liver problems
AL Amyloidosis Evaluation
We perform a detailed evaluation to learn more about your health history and symptoms.
We also perform tests that may include:
- 24-hour urine test: This test confirms whether you have signs of kidney dysfunction, such as protein in your urine. You deposit all of your urine over 24 hours in a special container. We run tests to check for different types of protein.
- Bone marrow biopsy: If there is a concern that you have AL amyloid, a bone marrow biopsy can confirm an amyloidosis diagnosis. We take a sample of bone marrow tissue and examine it under a microscope.
- Biopsies of other organs: If the results of the bone marrow biopsy are negative for amyloidosis, we may biopsy other organs to confirm a diagnosis. The organs that may need to be biopsied will depend on your symptoms.
- Blood tests: We analyze a sample of your blood to evaluate organ function such as your heart, kidneys, liver and bone marrow. If there are signs of organ involvement you may see other physicians in the Amyloid Center of Excellence.
Treating AL Amyloidosis
An accurate diagnosis helps us deliver the treatments that best meet your needs. We tailor treatments to help you feel better while protecting your organs from further damage.
Your care may include:
- Medications: Most people with AL amyloidosis receive some form of chemotherapy. These are medications that target and destroy the cells that make the abnormal light chain proteins. Your care may also include medications that slow the rate at which amyloid deposits in your organs. In addition, clinical trials targeting the amyloid deposits may be available.
- Stem cell (bone marrow) transplant: Some patients are treated with a stem cell transplant. This treatment kills more of the amyloid-producing cells in the bone marrow using high doses of chemotherapy.
- Treatments that relieve symptoms (supportive care): We recommend treatments that ease discomfort and help your body cope with amyloid deposits. The treatments that are right for you depend on which organs have amyloid deposits and the symptoms you are experiencing.
To make an appointment with a Washington University amyloidosis specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 888.969.4806.