Hairy Cell Leukemia

Hairy cell leukemia (HCL) is a malignancy of the bone marrow that is rare and grows rather slowly. In HCL the bone marrow produces excess malignant B lymphocytes, which normally help the body fight infections. These excess malignant B cells appear abnormal under the microscope and tend to look “hairy,” hence its name. The cause of hairy cell leukemia is unknown.

This type of leukemia is a subtype of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, typically develops slowly and may be controlled for many years with treatment. There are usually periods of remission when the disease is not active. Common symptoms of HCL include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Shortness of breath
  • Excessive sweating
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Frequent infections and fevers

There is no accepted staging system for HCL. For the purpose of treatment decisions, this disease is classified as untreated, progressive, or refractory.

  • Newly diagnosed hairy cell leukemia may not require immediate treatment but the patient is closely monitored for any changes in the condition. Treatment may include:
    • Chemotherapy
    • Interferon
    • Targeted therapy
    • Splenectomy