Programs / Events




Click on the type of cancer you would like to know more about.

Hairy cell leukemia



Alternative Name

Leukemic reticuloendotheliosis; HCL; Leukemia - hairy cell

Overview

Hairy cell leukemia (HCL) is a rare cancer of the blood. It affects B cells, a type of white blood cell (lymphocyte).


Review Date: 7/11/2008

Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and James R. Mason, MD, Oncologist, Director, Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program and Stem Cell Processing Lab, Scripps Clinic, Torrey Pines, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.



A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2009 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com

Risk Factors

HCL is caused by the abnormal growth of B cells. The cells can look "hairy" under the microscope because they have fine projections coming from their surface.

HCL can lead to low numbers of normal blood cells.

The cause of this disease is unknown. It affects men more often than women. The average age of onset is 55. Hairy cell leukemia is rare.

Signs/Symptoms

  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Excessive sweating (especially at night)
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling full after eating only a small amount
  • Recurrent infections and fevers
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you have significant bleeding. Also call if you have signs of infection, such as a persistent fever, cough, or general ill feeling.

Treatment

Treatment may not be needed for the early stages of this disease. Some patients may need an occasional blood transfusion.

If treatment is needed because of very low blood counts, a variety of chemotherapy drugs can be used. A drug called interferon is also used. In most cases, chemotherapy can relieve the symptoms of the disease for many years. (When the signs and symptoms go away, you are said to be in remission.) Interferon can relieve symptoms but is unlikely to lead to remission.

Removing the spleen may improve blood counts, but is unlikely to cure the disease. Antibiotics can be used to treat infections. People with low blood counts will receive growth factors and, possibly, transfusions.

Prevention

There is no known way to prevent this disease.

Outlook

Newer chemotherapy treatments have greatly improved the survival of patients with hairy cell leukemia. Most patients with hairy cell leukemia can expect to live 10 years or longer with the disease.


Complications

The low blood counts caused by hairy cell leukemia can lead to infections, fatigue, and excessive bleeding.

Signs & Testing

During a physical exam, the doctor may be able to feel a swollen spleen or liver. An abdominal CT scan may be done to confirm this swelling.

A complete blood count shows low levels of white and red blood cells as well as platelets.

Blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy can detect hairy cells. Flow cytometry or a test called TRAP can confirm the cancer diagnosis.