Hairy cell leukemia

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.

Doctors aren't sure what causes hairy cell leukemia, and there is no cure. Hairy cell leukemia is considered a chronic disease because it may never completely disappear, although treatment can lead to a remission for years.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

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.

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