| Risk Factors
Hairy cell leukemia (HCL) is a rare form of cancer. It involves white blood cells called B lymphocytes. White blood cells protect the body from infection. HCL gets its name from the tiny hair-like projections that protrude from the surface of these cancer cells. Illness results from the accumulation of these cancer cells in the bone marrow and spleen.
White Blood Cells
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The exact cause of HCL is unknown.
HCL occurs more often in men. It also occurs more often in people over the age of 50.
HCL usually develops slowly over time. Early on, there may not be any symptoms. The cancer cells eventually overgrow the bone marrow. This affects the growth of normal cells (eg, red blood cells and platelets) causing symptoms like:
(low levels of red blood cells)
- Bleeding (low platelet levels)
Other symptoms may include:
- Enlarged spleen
- Enlarged liver
- Recurrent infections (often with a fever)
- Easy bruising
- Night sweats
- Swollen lymph nodes
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:
HCL is a slow-growing cancer. It does not require aggressive treatment early on. As HCL progresses, treatment may include:
may need to be done to remove an enlarged spleen.
is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms. This includes pill, injection, and via a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body.
- Immunotherapy—Drugs (eg, interleukin-2, interferon) are used to help boost the immune system to better fight and destroy cancer cells.
- Bone marrow transplant
—Bone marrow is destroyed with high doses of chemotherapy and/or
radiation therapy. The bone marrow is then replaced with healthy bone marrow from a donor.
- Blood transfusion
—A blood transfusion may be done to treat anemia.
- Antibiotics or other medicines to fight infection
There are no guidelines for preventing HCL.
Hairy cell leukemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated June 20, 2012. Accessed September 4, 2012.
General information about hairy cell leukemia. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/hairy-cell-leukemia/Patient. Accessed September 4, 2012.
Hairy cell leukemia.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society website. Available at:
http://www.leukemia-lymphoma.org/all_page?item_id=8507. Accessed September 4, 2012.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Igor Puzanov, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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