Learn About Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL)

View Main Condition: Leukemia

What is the definition of Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL)?

Hairy cell leukemia (HCL) is an unusual cancer of the blood. It affects B lymphocyte cells, a type of white blood cell.

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What are the alternative names for Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL)?

Leukemic reticuloendotheliosis; HCL; Leukemia - hairy cell

What are the causes of Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL)?

HCL is caused by the abnormal growth of B cells. The cells look "hairy" under the microscope because they have fine projections extending from their surface.

HCL usually leads to a low number of normal blood cells.

The cause of this disease is unknown. Certain genetic changes (mutations) in the cancer cells may be the cause. It affects men more often than women. The average age of diagnosis is 55.

What are the symptoms of Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL)?

Symptoms of HCL may include any of the following:

  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Heavy sweating (especially at night)
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Feeling full after eating only a small amount
  • Recurrent infections and fevers
  • Pain or fullness in the upper left belly (enlarged spleen)
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Weight loss
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What are the current treatments for Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL)?

Treatment may not be needed for the early stages of this disease. Some people may need an occasional blood transfusion.

If treatment is needed because of very low blood counts, chemotherapy drugs can be used.

In most cases, chemotherapy can relieve the symptoms for many years. When the signs and symptoms go away, you are said to be in remission.

Removing the spleen may improve blood counts, but is unlikely to cure the disease. Antibiotics can be used to treat infections. People with low blood counts may receive growth factors and, possibly, transfusions.

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What is the outlook (prognosis) for Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL)?

Most people with HCL can expect to live 10 years or longer after diagnosis and treatment.

What are the possible complications of Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL)?

The low blood counts caused by hairy cell leukemia can lead to:

  • Infections
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive bleeding
When should I contact a medical professional for Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL)?

Call your provider if you have major bleeding. Also call if you have signs of infection, such as a persistent fever, cough, or general ill feeling.

How do I prevent Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL)?

There is no known way to prevent this disease.

Bone marrow aspiration
Hairy cell leukemia - microscopic view
Enlarged spleen
What are the latest Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL) Clinical Trials?
A Phase II Study of the BRAF Inhibitor, Vemurafenib, in Patients With Relapsed or Refractory Hairy Cell Leukemia

Summary: The purpose of this study is to find out what effects, good and/or bad, treatment with vemurafenib (also known as Zelboraf™) has on the patient and on leukemia. Specifically, the researchers want to know how well vemurafenib eliminates leukemia from the blood.

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Phase 2 Trial of Encorafenib Plus Binimetinib for Patients With BRAF V600 Mutated Relapsed/Refractory HCL

Background: Hairy cell leukemia (HCL) does not usually respond to chemotherapy. Most people with HCL have a BRAF gene mutation. This can increase the growth of cancer cells. Vemurafenib has been tested to treat these people. However, researchers think a combination of drugs might work better.

What are the Latest Advances for Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL)?
Long-term follow-up of cladribine treatment in hairy cell leukemia: 30-year experience in a multicentric Italian study.
Successful surgical resection of rectal cancer in a patient with relapsed hairy cell leukemia under interferon-α treatment.
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A Review on Splenic Diffuse Red Pulp Small B-Cell Lymphoma.
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date: April 29, 2022
Published By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

National Cancer Institute website. Hairy cell leukemia treatment (PDQ) health professional version. www.cancer.gov/types/leukemia/hp/hairy-cell-treatment-pdq. Updated January 14, 2022 . Accessed June 25, 2022.

Nasr MR, Hutchison RE. Leukocytic disorders. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 34.

Ravandi F. Hairy cell leukemia. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ, Silberstein LE, et al, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 78.