Hairy cell leukemia is a slow-growing and rare cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Hairy cell leukemia starts when the bone marrow produces too many lymphocytes (B cells and infection-fighting white blood cells). With the increased production of leukemia cells, healthy platelets, white blood cells, and red blood cells go down.
Associated Anatomy of Hairy Cell Leukemia
Hairy Cell Leukemia Causes
The cause of hairy cell leukemia is not known. Experts know that this cancer happens due to cell mutations in the DNA that causes the bone marrow stem cells to produce excessive white blood cells that function inefficiently. Still, they fail to understand the main reasons behind the DNA mutations that eventually cause hairy cell leukemia.
Hairy Cell Leukemia Symptoms
Generally, the signs or symptoms of hairy cell leukemia are not evident, and a blood test for another condition or disease happens to reveal this cancer. However, people with hairy cell leukemia experience the following signs and symptoms, which is also common in a plethora of other conditions, such as:
Easy bruising and bleeding
Shortness of breath
A feeling of fullness in abdominal areas just after small meals, making it uncomfortable to eat more
Hairy Cell Leukemia Stages
There are no standard staging systems or defined stages for hairy cell leukemia. The disease either does not respond to the treatment or rebounds after treatment.
Hairy Cell Leukemia Diagnosis
Typical Tests for Hairy Cell Leukemia
There are several tests to find if you are suffering from hairy cell leukemia:
Physical tests: A doctor can feel your stomach and determine a large spleen due to the hairy cell build-up. They may also physically check for swollen lymph nodes in the abdominal areas.
Image tests: A CT scan (computerized tomography) or X-rays from different angles can be recommended for a detailed picture of the spleen.
Blood tests: Blood tests can be recommended to determine low counts of certain types of white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets. A peripheral blood smear test (that finds hairy leukemia blood cells) can be suggested.
Bone marrow biopsy: The biopsy is conducted to identify mutations noticed in hairy leukemia cells.
Possible Treatment of Hairy Cell Leukemia
The type of treatment for hairy cell leukemia depends on the following factors:
The number of healthy blood cells in the body versus hairy leukemia cells present in your bone marrow and blood.
Size of the spleen (how large is it compared to the normal one).
Whether you show signs of leukemia (weight loss, fever, sweating) or you have a blood infection.
The number of times you have been affected with hairy cell leukemia after treatment.
Once it is determined how hairy cell leukemia is affecting you, one or more of the following treatments can be recommended:
If you are suffering from a painful spleen, or it happens to burst, it can be removed through splenectomy. This won't cure hairy cell leukemia but would ensure an average blood count.
Immunotherapy treatment uses your immune system to combat hairy cell leukemia. There are two standard therapies for this treatment: Interferon and Rituximab (Rituxan). Alternatively, moxetumomab (Lumoxiti) can be suggested if other treatments aren't helping.
Chemotherapy uses a combination of powerful drugs like pentostatin (Nipent) and cladribine (Leustatin). Put in the body through IV, these drugs kill cancer cells entirely or restrict their growth.
Risk Factors of Hairy Cell Leukemia
A few factors that can increase the risk of developing hairy cell leukemia are:
Radiation exposure: It is assumed that people exposed more to radiation may have higher chances of developing hairy cell leukemia. For instance, people who work with (or around) X-ray machines and do not take precautions or cancer patients who have received radiation treatment.
Exposure to chemicals: Another inconclusive and unproven risk from the development of hairy cell leukemia is assumed from agricultural and industrial chemicals.
Prevention of Hairy Cell Leukemia
As exposure to agricultural and industrial chemicals increases the risk of developing hairy leukemia cells, it is advised to avoid such chemicals. Otherwise, there aren't other proven ways to avoid hairy leukemia cells.
Possible Complications of Hairy Cell Leukemia
Untreated hairy cell leukemia expels healthy blood cells in the bone marrow, which can lead to the following serious complications:
Anemia: A decreased number of red blood cells means lesser cells are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body. This causes fatigue, resulting in anemia.
Infections: If healthy white blood cells are less in the body, the risk of recurring infections increases.
Bleeding: A fall in platelet counts will make you bruise easily. It makes you bleed spontaneously from your gums or nose.
Hairy Cell Leukemia Epidemiology
Age: 30 and above.
Gender: More common in men than women.
Ethnicity: Western people are more affected than Asian people.
Family history: Most people with a family history of this disease aren't affected. Therefore, the risk remains low.
Hairy Cell Leukemia Prognosis
Hairy cell leukemia is amongst chronic cancers as it doesn't disappear completely, although it can be curbed through treatments.
Hairy Cell Leukemia Pathophysiology
Hairy cell leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood that will either progress very slowly or will not worsen at all.
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