• Hairy Cell Leukemia

    (HCL; Leukemic Reticuloendotheliosis)


    Hairy cell leukemia (HCL) is a rare form of cancer. It involves white blood cells called B lymphocytes. White blood cells protect the body from infection. HCL gets its name from the tiny hair-like projections that protrude from the surface of these cancer cells. Illness results from the accumulation of these cancer cells in the bone marrow and spleen.
    White Blood Cells
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    The exact cause of HCL is unknown.

    Risk Factors

    HCL occurs more often in men. It also occurs more often in people over the age of 50.


    HCL usually develops slowly over time. Early on, there may not be any symptoms. The cancer cells eventually overgrow the bone marrow. This affects the growth of normal cells (eg, red blood cells and platelets) causing symptoms like:
    • Anemia (low levels of red blood cells)
    • Bleeding (low platelet levels)
    Other symptoms may include:
    • Enlarged spleen
    • Enlarged liver
    • Recurrent infections (often with a fever)
    • Easy bruising
    • Night sweats
    • Swollen lymph nodes


    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:


    HCL is a slow-growing cancer. It does not require aggressive treatment early on. As HCL progresses, treatment may include:
    • Surgery— A splenectomy may need to be done to remove an enlarged spleen.
    • Chemotherapy—This is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms. This includes pill, injection, and via a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body.
    • Immunotherapy—Drugs (eg, interleukin-2, interferon) are used to help boost the immune system to better fight and destroy cancer cells.
    • Bone marrow transplant—Bone marrow is destroyed with high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy . The bone marrow is then replaced with healthy bone marrow from a donor.
    • Blood transfusion—A blood transfusion may be done to treat anemia.
    • Antibiotics or other medicines to fight infection


    There are no guidelines for preventing HCL.


    American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org/

    The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society http://www.leukemia.org/

    National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov/


    BC Cancer Agency http://www.bccancer.bc.ca/

    Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca/


    Hairy cell leukemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated June 20, 2012. Accessed September 4, 2012.

    General information about hairy cell leukemia. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/hairy-cell-leukemia/Patient . Accessed September 4, 2012.

    Hairy cell leukemia. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society website. Available at: http://www.lls.org/#/diseaseinformation/leukemia/hairycellleukemia/ . Accessed September 4, 2012.

    Revision Information

  • LiveWell personal health survey

    How healthy are you really? Find out – free.Learn more

    Maybe it's time to stop guessing. If you've been wanting to make some changes but just aren't sure how, the free personal health survey from LiveWell is a great place to start.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease early and prevent heart attacks with HeartSHAPE® - a painless, non-invasive test that takes pictures of your heart to scan for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.