Healthcare Library

Spanish Version
Print-Friendly
Bookmarks
bookmarks-menu

Hairy cell leukemia

Leukemic reticuloendotheliosis; HCL; Leukemia - hairy cell

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

Causes

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

HCL usually leads to a low number of normal blood cells.

The cause of this disease is unknown. Certain genetic changes (mutations) in the cancer cells may be the cause. It affects men more often than women. The average age of diagnosis is 55.

Symptoms

Symptoms of HCL may include any of the following:

  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Heavy sweating (especially at night)
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Feeling full after eating only a small amount
  • Recurrent infections and fevers
  • Pain or fullness in the upper left belly (enlarged spleen)
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Weight loss

Exams and Tests

During a physical exam, the health care provider may be able to feel a swollen spleen or liver. An abdominal CT scan or ultrasound may be done to evaluate this swelling.

Blood tests that may be done include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC) to check low levels of white and red blood cells, as well as platelets.
  • Blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy to check for hairy cells.

Treatment

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

If treatment is needed because of very low blood counts, chemotherapy drugs can be used.

In most cases, chemotherapy can relieve the symptoms for many years. When the signs and symptoms go away, you are said to be in 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 may receive growth factors and, possibly, transfusions.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most people with HCL can expect to live 10 years or longer after diagnosis and treatment.

Possible Complications

The low blood counts caused by hairy cell leukemia can lead to:

  • Infections
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive bleeding

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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

Prevention

There is no known way to prevent this disease.

References

National Cancer Institute website. Hairy cell leukemia treatment (PDQ) – health professional version. www.cancer.gov/types/leukemia/hp/hairy-cell-treatment-pdq. Updated March 23, 2018. Accessed June 12, 2018.

Ravandi F. Hairy cell leukemia. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ, Silberstein LE, et al, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 78.

    • Bone marrow aspiration

      Bone marrow aspiration - illustration

      A small amount of bone marrow is removed during a bone marrow aspiration. The procedure is uncomfortable, but can be tolerated by both children and adults. The marrow can be studied to determine the cause of anemia, the presence of leukemia or other malignancy, or the presence of some storage diseases, in which abnormal metabolic products are stored in certain bone marrow cells.

      Bone marrow aspiration

      illustration

    • Hairy cell leukemia - microscopic view

      Hairy cell leukemia - microscopic view - illustration

      All the cells in this field are hairy cells. The cell membranes appear irregular and serrated. The cytoplasm stains light blue (black arrows). The nuclei tend to be irregular (red arrows).

      Hairy cell leukemia - microscopic view

      illustration

    • Enlarged spleen

      Enlarged spleen - illustration

      Because of its wide variety of functions, the spleen may be affected by many conditions involving the blood or lymph system, and by infection, malignancies, liver disease, and parasites.

      Enlarged spleen

      illustration

      • Bone marrow aspiration

        Bone marrow aspiration - illustration

        A small amount of bone marrow is removed during a bone marrow aspiration. The procedure is uncomfortable, but can be tolerated by both children and adults. The marrow can be studied to determine the cause of anemia, the presence of leukemia or other malignancy, or the presence of some storage diseases, in which abnormal metabolic products are stored in certain bone marrow cells.

        Bone marrow aspiration

        illustration

      • Hairy cell leukemia - microscopic view

        Hairy cell leukemia - microscopic view - illustration

        All the cells in this field are hairy cells. The cell membranes appear irregular and serrated. The cytoplasm stains light blue (black arrows). The nuclei tend to be irregular (red arrows).

        Hairy cell leukemia - microscopic view

        illustration

      • Enlarged spleen

        Enlarged spleen - illustration

        Because of its wide variety of functions, the spleen may be affected by many conditions involving the blood or lymph system, and by infection, malignancies, liver disease, and parasites.

        Enlarged spleen

        illustration

      Review Date: 5/14/2018

      Reviewed By: Preeti Sudheendra, MD, oncologist at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

      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. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
      adam.com

       
       
       

       

       

      A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.
      Content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.

      ways to give

      view all

      news room

      view all

      healthcare library

      view all
      Event Calendar

      Hunterdon Healthcare offers an array of educational events, including childbirth, healthy living and fitness classes.

      LEARN MORE
      Health and Wellness Centers

      Where health and fitness meet to help you stay healthy at every age.

      LEARN MORE
      Heart & Vascular

      Heart and Vascular Services Department brings world-class cardiovascular care to our community.

      LEARN MORE