Leukemia (Hairy Cell)

Hairy Cell Leukemia

What is hairy cell leukemia? — Hairy cell leukemia is a rare type of blood cancer that grows very slowly.
Blood is made up of different types of cells. These cells are made in the center of your bones, in a part called the bone marrow. When people have hairy cell leukemia, their bone marrow makes abnormal blood cells. These abnormal blood cells grow out of control, get into the blood, and travel around the body. Sometimes, these cells collect in certain parts of the body.
When the bone marrow makes abnormal blood cells, it does not make enough of the normal blood cells a person's body needs. This can cause symptoms.
What are the symptoms of hairy cell leukemia? — Some people with hairy cell leukemia have no symptoms, especially when it is in the early stages. People might find out they have it after they have a routine exam or blood test.
When hairy cell leukemia causes symptoms, they can include:
Belly pain (because an organ called the spleen gets very big)
Feeling very tired or weak
Losing weight without trying to
Bleeding or bruising more easily than normal
Getting sick from infections more easily than normal
These symptoms can also be caused by conditions that are not hairy cell leukemia. But if you have these symptoms, let your doctor or nurse know.
Is there a test for hairy cell leukemia? — Yes. Your doctor or nurse will talk with you, do an exam, and order a few different blood tests. He or she will also order a bone marrow biopsy. For this test, a doctor takes a very small sample of your bone marrow. Then another doctor looks at the cells under a microscope to see if abnormal (cancer) cells are present.
How is hairy cell leukemia treated? — Treatment depends on whether you have symptoms or not. If you do not have any symptoms, you will not need treatment right away. But your doctor will follow your condition closely by doing exams and blood tests until treatment is needed.
When treatment is needed, doctors usually treat hairy cell leukemia with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. Doctors can use different chemotherapy medicines to treat hairy cell leukemia. Your doctor will work with you to choose the medicine that is right for you.
When people have chemotherapy, they can get sick from infections more easily than normal. Because of this, it's important to wash your hands often and stay away from people who are sick. Let your doctor or nurse know right away if you get a fever.
What happens after treatment? — After treatment, your doctor will check you every so often to see if your cancer comes back. Follow-ups include talking with your doctor, exams, and blood tests. Sometimes, your doctor will also do a bone marrow biopsy.
You should also watch for the symptoms listed above. Having these symptoms again could mean your cancer has come back. Tell the doctor or nurse if you have any symptoms.
What happens if the chemotherapy doesn't work or the leukemia comes back? — If the chemotherapy doesn't work or the hairy cell leukemia comes back, your doctor can try other treatments. These can include:
More chemotherapy – You might get the same chemotherapy medicine you got before, or you might get a different kind.
Medicines called "immunotherapy" – These medicines kill cancer cells by recognizing proteins on the cancer cells.
Surgery to remove the spleen
A type of medicine called "interferon alfa"
What else should I do? — It's important to follow all of your doctor's instructions about visits and tests. It's also important to talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment.
Getting treated for hairy cell leukemia involves making many choices, such as what treatment to have and when.
Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:
What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?
What are the downsides to this treatment?
Are there other options besides this treatment?
What happens if I do not have this treatment?
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This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 83669 Version 8.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
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