Hairy cell leukemia

Hairy cell leukemia is a very rare cancer that causes the bone marrow to make abnormal lymphocytes. Hairy cell leukemia got its name because the lymphocytes look hairy under a microscope.

Symptoms of hairy cell leukemia (HCL) can include weakness, fever, weight loss, bruising easily, and repeated infections. The spleen may become swollen and painful.

HCL grows very slowly. So it often does not need to be treated right away. It is more common in men than in women. It occurs more often in adults in their 50s and is not seen in children or teens.

HCL is considered a chronic disease because it does not ever go away completely. But treatment can keep symptoms away for long periods of time. And if a person who has HCL is under the care of a doctor, he or she can have a normal life expectancy.

Last Updated: November 26, 2008

Author: Bets Davis, MFA

Medical Review: Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Brian Leber, MDCM, FRCPC - Hematology

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