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White Blood Cells  

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Definition  

Hairy cell leukemia (HCL) is a rare form of cancer. It involves white blood cells called B lymphocytes. White blood cells protect the body from infection. HCL gets its name from the tiny hair-like projections that stick out of the surface of these cancer cells. Illness results from the build up of these cancer cells in the bone marrow and spleen.

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Causes  

The exact cause of HCL is unknown.

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Risk Factors  

HCL occurs more often in men. It also occurs more often in people over the age of 50.

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Symptoms  

HCL usually develops slowly over time. Early on, there may not be any symptoms. The cancer cells eventually overgrow the bone marrow. This affects the growth of normal cells such as red blood cells and platelets.

Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Fever
  • Easy bruising
  • Night sweats
  • Swollen lymph nodes
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Diagnosis  

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:

Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with a CT scan.

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Treatment  

HCL is a slow-growing cancer. As HCL progresses, treatment may include:

  • Surgery— A splenectomy may need to be done to remove an enlarged spleen.
  • Chemotherapy —This is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms. This includes pill, injection, and via a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body.
  • Medications, such as cladribine, pentostatin, and interferon, are used to fight the hairy cells.
  • Blood transfusion —A blood transfusion may be done to treat anemia.
  • Antibiotics or other medications to fight infection
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Prevention  

There are no guidelines for preventing HCL.