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Cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue, such as the bone marrow, and causes large numbers of abnormal blood cells to be produced and enter the bloodstream.
Hairy cell leukaemia is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. This rare type of leukaemiagets worse slowly or does not get worse at all. The disease is called hairy cell leukaemia because the leukaemia cells look "hairy" when viewed under a microscope.
Normally, the bone marrow makes blood stem cells (immature cells) that become mature blood cells over time. A blood stem cell may become a myeloid stem cell or a lymphoid stem cell.
A myeloid stem cell becomes one of three types of mature blood cells:
A lymphoid stem cell becomes a lymphoblast cell and then into one of three types of lymphocytes (white blood cells):
Blood cell development. A blood stem cell goes through several steps to become a red blood cell, platelet, or white blood cell.
In hairy cell leukaemia, too many blood stem cells become lymphocytes. These lymphocytes are abnormal and do not become healthy white blood cells. They are also called leukaemia cells. The leukaemia cells can build up in the blood and bone marrow so there is less room for healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
This may cause infection, anemia, and easy bleeding. Some of the leukaemia cells may collect in the spleen and cause it to swell.
This summary is about hairy cell leukaemia. See the following summaries for information about other types of leukaemia in the A-Z List of Cancers:
Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. The cause of hairy cell leukaemia is unknown. It occurs more often in older men.
These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by hairy cell leukaemia or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
The following tests and procedures may be used:
Complete blood count (CBC). Blood is collected by inserting a needle into a vein and allowing the blood to flow into a tube. The blood sample is sent to the laboratory and the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are counted. The CBC is used to test for, diagnose, and monitor many different conditions.
Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. After a small area of skin is numbed, a Jamshidi needle (a long, hollow needle) is inserted into the patient’s hip bone. Samples of blood, bone, and bone marrow are removed for examination under a microscope.
The treatment options may depend on the following:
The prognosis (chance of recovery) depends on the following:
Treatment often results in a long-lasting remission (a period during which some or all of the signs and symptoms of the leukaemia are gone). If the leukaemia returns after it has been in remission, retreatment often causes another remission.
For more information on Hairy Cell leukaemia click here
This link is to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) cancer website in the United States. There may be references to drugs and clinical trials that are not available here in Australia.
For information courtesy of Cancer Australia, please click here
Page last updated: 07/05/2020