What is Hairy Cell Leukemia – Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

There are several types of cells which are part of the body’s immune system. Prominent among them are the B cells and T cells. The unusual form of blood cancer caused when the healthy B cells turn rogue is called Hairy cell leukemia. The average age of diagnosis of this disease is 55 years.

The cancer is rare as less than 2000 cases of this cancer are diagnosed together in North America and Europe annually. Men are reportedly diagnosed more by this cancer than women. The cancer is characterized by abnormal growth of B cells and inhibition of normal blood cells.

Its cause is unknown. There are no ways to prevent it as of now. The responsible cells appear with hairy projections on them when observed under the microscope and hence the name.

Symptoms of Hairy Cell Leukemia:

  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Swelling of the liver
  • Severe infection risk
  • Easy bruising
  • Lower number of neutrophil cells
  • Lower number of blood platelets
  • Easy bruising

The diagnosis of the cancer is mostly accidental when during routine blood check up, the complete blood count is found to be abnormally low. It is followed by a physical examination where in 80-90 percent cases a massive and swollen spleen is found out. This diagnosis is a definite indication that something is wrong in the body on a large scale and the spleen has swollen in the process of defending the body.

In 85 percent cases, bone marrow biopsy reveals the presence of hairy cells in the blood stream which confirms the condition. The possibility of the existence of other diseases which mimic in their symptoms with HCL is also ruled out by this finding.

A technique called flow cytometry can also be applied to detect the presence of hairy cells in the blood.

Treatment of Hairy Cell Leukemia:

Fortunately, in 95 percent cases the treatment proves to be successful. However, it is not required for all patients too. 10 percent of them do not require any treatment at all.

Until the initial state of the cancer passes by, treatment is not commenced. Only if life threatening situations arise, chemotherapy drugs are given to the patient. The treatment is sufficient enough to put a check on the symptoms of the cancer for several years.

Intake of antibiotics keeps the infection at bay and occasional blood transfusion is sufficient in most of the cases.

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