Hairy Cell Leukemia

Posted September 14, 2022 by Anusha ‐ 2 min read

Hairy cell leukemia is a rare form of leukemia, or cancer of your blood cells. If you have hairy cell leukemia, your bone marrow makes abnormal white blood cells that multiply. It’s called hairy cell anemia because the abnormal cells appear hairy when viewed under a microscope.

Causes of Hairy Cell Leukemia

  • Healthcare providers don’t know what causes hairy cell leukemia, but they’re looking closely at a certain genetic mutation that appears in 85% of people who have hairy cell leukemia.

  • While a certain genetic mutation, or change, may cause hairy cell leukemia, the change isn’t one that’s inherited.

  • Healthcare providers call this an acquired mutation, meaning the genes in question mutated during people’s lifetimes.

  • Researchers don’t know how or why this acquired mutation happens.

Symptoms of Hairy Cell Leukemia

  • Fever.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Night sweats.

  • Weakness.

  • Unexplained weight loss.

  • Pain or a feeling of fullness below your ribs. This may be a symptom that your spleen is larger than normal.

  • Frequent infections.

  • Unusual bruising or bleeding.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Painless lumps in your neck, underarm, stomach or groin.

Diagnosis of Hairy Cell Leukemia

Complete blood count (CBC) with differential

This test measures the number of red and white blood cells and platelets. The differential measures the different types of white blood cells.

Peripheral blood smear

In this test, healthcare providers look at blood cells under a microscope. This is the test where healthcare providers look for leukemia cells that have the tiny hair-like projections that give hairy cell leukemia its name.

Bone marrow aspiration and bone marrow biopsy

Healthcare providers do these tests to look for signs of leukemia in your bone marrow and to measure the number of blood cells in your bone marrow.

Computed tomography (CT) scan

CT scans make detailed pictures of areas inside of your body. Healthcare providers may do this test to examine the size of your spleen, liver and lymph nodes.

Flow cytometry

This test measures the number of cells in a sample, the percentage of live cells in a sample and certain characteristics of cells, such as size, shape, and the presence of tumor markers on the cell surface. Hairy cells have a surface protein pattern that’s different from healthy B-cells.

Treatment of Hairy Cell Leukemia

  • If you have hairy cell leukemia but don’t have symptoms, your healthcare provider may recommend watchful waiting.

  • This means they’ll carefully monitor your overall health and watch for early symptoms or signs of hairy cell leukemia.

  • If you have symptoms, most healthcare providers use chemotherapy to treat hairy cell leukemia.

  • If hairy cell leukemia affects your spleen, they may recommend a splenectomy, which is surgery to remove your spleen.

diseases disorders hairy-cell-leukemia cancers

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