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Hairy cell leukemia
Alternative namesLeukemic reticuloendotheliosis; HCL
Hairy cell leukemia is a cancer of lymphocytes (B cells) that leads to low blood counts.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Hairy cell leukemia (HCL) is an uncommon cancer of the blood. It can be one of the causes of low numbers of normal blood cells. The disease is caused by the abnormal growth of B cells that can look "hairy" under the microscope because they have fine projections coming from their surface.
The cause of this disease is unknown. It affects men 5 times more often than women, and the average age of onset is 55. Hairy cell leukemia is rare and only accounts for about 2% of the leukemias diagnosed each year.
Signs and tests
Early in the course of the disease, no treatment may be necessary. Some patients may need an occasional blood transfusion.
If treatment is needed because of very low blood counts, a variety of chemotherapy drugs (cladribine, pentostatin) can be used. Interferon is also used. In the majority of cases these drugs can produce a remission (complete relief from the disease) that lasts for many years. It is unclear if chemotherapy will cure the disease, however, because most patients will relapse over time.
The removal of the spleen may improve blood counts, but is unlikely to cure the disease. Symptomatic treatment of infections with antibiotics or low blood counts with growth factors and transfusions may be required.
Expectations (prognosis)Newer treatments using chemotherapy 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.
ComplicationsThe low blood counts caused by hairy cell leukemia can lead to infections, fatigue, and excessive bleeding.
Calling your health care providerCall your health care provider if significant bleeding occurs. Also call if signs of infection are present, including: persistent fever , cough , or general ill feeling .
PreventionThere is no known prevention.
Update Date: 10/28/2003Ezra E. W. Cohen, M.D., Section of Hematology/Oncology, Department of Medicine, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT