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Hairy Cell Leukemia Treatment

General Information About Hairy Cell Leukemia

 

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Hairy cell leukemia is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell).

Hairy cell leukemia is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. This rare type of leukemia gets worse slowly or does not get worse at all. The disease is called hairy cell leukemia because the leukemia cells look "hairy" when viewed under a microscope.

Normally, the bone marrow makes blood stem cells (immature cells) that develop into mature blood cells over time. A blood stem cell may become a myeloid stem cell or a lymphoid stem cell.

The myeloid stem cell develops into one of three types of mature blood cells:

The lymphoid stem cell develops into a lymphoblast cell and then into one of three types of lymphocytes (white blood cells):


Blood cell development. A blood stem cell goes through several steps to become a red blood cell, platelet, or white blood cell.
Blood cell development. A blood stem cell goes through several steps to become a red blood cell, platelet, or white blood cell.

In hairy cell leukemia, too many blood stem cells develop into lymphocytes. These lymphocytes are abnormal and do not become healthy white blood cells. They may also be called leukemic cells. The leukemic cells can build up in the blood and bone marrow so there is less room for healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. This may cause infection, anemia, and easy bleeding. Some of the leukemia cells may collect in the spleen and cause it to swell.

This summary is about hairy cell leukemia. See the following PDQ summaries for information about other types of leukemia:

Gender and age may affect the risk of developing hairy cell leukemia.

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. People who think they may be at risk should discuss this with their doctor. The cause of hairy cell leukemia is unknown. It occurs more often in older men.

Possible signs of hairy cell leukemia include tiredness, infections, and pain below the ribs.

These and other symptoms may be caused by hairy cell leukemia. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:

Tests that examine the blood and bone marrow are used to detect (find) and diagnose hairy cell leukemia.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

Certain factors affect treatment options and prognosis (chance of recovery).

The treatment options may depend on the following:

The prognosis (chance of recovery) depends on the following:

Treatment often results in a long-lasting remission (a period during which some or all of the signs and symptoms of the leukemia are gone). If the leukemia returns after it has been in remission, retreatment often causes another remission.