Disease: Hairy cell leukemia

    Overview

    Hairy cell leukemia is a rare, slow-growing cancer of the blood in which your bone marrow makes too many B cells (lymphocytes), a type of white blood cell that fights infection.

    These excess B cells are abnormal and look "hairy" under a microscope. As the number of leukemia cells increases, fewer healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets are produced.

    Hairy cell leukemia affects more men than women, and it occurs most commonly in middle-aged or older adults.

    Hairy cell leukemia is considered a chronic disease because it may never completely disappear, although treatment can lead to a remission for years.

    Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

    Symptoms

    Some people have no signs or symptoms of hairy cell leukemia, but a blood test for another disease or condition may inadvertently reveal hairy cell leukemia.

    Other times people with hairy cell leukemia experience signs and symptoms common to a number of diseases and conditions, such as:

    • A feeling of fullness in your abdomen that may make it uncomfortable to eat more than a little at a time
    • Fatigue
    • Easy bruising
    • Recurring infections
    • Weakness
    • Weight loss

    When to see a doctor

    Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs and symptoms that worry you.

    Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

    Causes

    It's not clear what causes hairy cell leukemia.

    Doctors know that cancer occurs when cells develop errors (mutations) in their DNA. In the case of hairy cell leukemia, mutations in the DNA cause your bone marrow stem cells to create too many white blood cells that don't work properly. Doctors don't know what causes the DNA mutations that lead to hairy cell leukemia.

    Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

    Diagnosis

    To diagnose hairy cell leukemia, your doctor may recommend:

    • Physical exam. By feeling your spleen — an oval-shaped organ on the left side of your upper abdomen — your doctor can determine if it's enlarged. An enlarged spleen may cause a sensation of fullness in your abdomen that makes it uncomfortable to eat.

      Your doctor may also check for enlarged lymph nodes that may contain leukemia cells.

    • Blood tests. Your doctor uses blood tests, such as the complete blood count, to monitor the levels of blood cells in your blood.

      People with hairy cell leukemia have low levels of all three types of blood cells — red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Another blood test called a peripheral blood smear looks for hairy cell leukemia cells in a sample of your blood.

    • Bone marrow biopsy. During a bone marrow biopsy, a small amount of bone marrow is removed from your hip area. This sample is used to look for hairy cell leukemia cells and to monitor your healthy blood cells.
    • Computerized tomography (CT) scan. A CT scan shows detailed images of the inside of your body. Your doctor may order a CT scan to detect enlargement of your spleen and your lymph nodes.

    Careful analysis of hairy cell leukemia cells in your blood and bone marrow samples may reveal certain genetic and chemical changes that give your doctor an idea of your prognosis and play a role in determining your treatment options.

    Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

    Complications

    Hairy cell leukemia progresses very slowly and sometimes remains stable for many years. For this reason, few complications of the disease occur.

    Untreated hairy cell leukemia that progresses may crowd out healthy blood cells in the bone marrow, leading to serious complications, such as:

    • Infections. Reduced numbers of healthy white blood cells put you at risk of infections that your body might otherwise fight off.
    • Bleeding. Low platelet counts make it hard for your body to stop bleeding once it starts. If you have a mildly low platelet count, you might notice that you bruise more easily. Very low platelet counts can cause spontaneous bleeding from the nose or gums.
    • Anemia. A low red blood cell count means fewer cells are available to carry oxygen throughout your body. This is called anemia. Anemia causes fatigue.

    Increased risk of second cancers

    Some studies have found that people with hairy cell leukemia may have an increased risk of developing a second type of cancer. It isn't clear whether this risk is due to hairy cell leukemia's effect on the body or if the risk comes from the medications used to treat hairy cell leukemia.

    Second cancers found in people treated for hairy cell leukemia include non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, among others.

    Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

    Alternative medicine

    No alternative medicines have been found to treat hairy cell leukemia. But alternative medicine may help you cope with the stress of a cancer diagnosis and the side effects of cancer treatment.

    Talk to your doctor about your options, such as:

    • Art therapy
    • Exercise
    • Meditation
    • Music therapy
    • Relaxation exercises
    • Spirituality

    Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

    Coping and support

    Doctors consider hairy cell leukemia a chronic form of cancer because it never completely goes away. Even if you achieve remission, you'll likely require follow-up visits with your doctor to monitor your cancer and your blood counts.

    Knowing that your cancer could come back at any time can be stressful. To help you cope, you might consider trying to:

    • Find out enough to feel comfortable making decisions about your care. Learn about your hairy cell leukemia and its treatment so that you can feel more confident about making decisions about your treatment.

      Having a better idea of what to expect from treatment and life after treatment can make you feel more in control of your cancer. Ask your doctor, nurse or other health care professional to recommend some reliable sources of information to get you started.

    • Connect with other cancer survivors. While friends and family provide an important support network during your cancer experience, they can't always understand what it's like to face cancer. Other cancer survivors provide a unique network of support.

      Ask your doctor or another member of your health care team about support groups or organizations in your community that can connect you with other cancer survivors. Organizations such as the American Cancer Society and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society offer online chat rooms and discussion boards.

    • Take care of yourself. You can't control whether your hairy cell leukemia comes back, but you can control other aspects of your health.

      Take care of yourself by eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and by exercising regularly. A healthy body can more easily fend off infections, and should you ever need to be treated for cancer again, you'll be better able to cope with the side effects of treatment.

    Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

    Risk factors

    Certain factors may increase your risk of developing hairy cell leukemia. Not all research studies agree on what factors increase your risk of the disease.

    Some research indicates that your risk of hairy cell leukemia increases based on your:

    • Exposure to radiation. People exposed to radiation, such as those who work around X-ray machines and do not wear adequate protective equipment or those who received radiation treatment for cancer, may have a higher risk of developing hairy cell leukemia, but the evidence is inconclusive.
    • Exposure to chemicals. There are conflicting studies on the role of industrial and agricultural chemicals in hairy cell leukemia development.

    Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

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