Hairy cell leukemia is a slowly progressing form of leukemia which is closely related to chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The name comes from the fact that hairy cell leukemia affected cells viewed under a microscope have tiny projections around the outside of the cell that look like small hairs. The condition is caused by the bone marrow producing abnormal white blood cells that do not mature properly and are unable to fight infection. These cells multiply rapidly and begin to crowd out the healthy blood cells that the body needs to function properly. As the number of abnormal blood cells increases and the number of healthy cells decreases, serious complications can result requiring hospitalization and emergency treatment.
There are around 800 new cases of hairy cell leukemia diagnosed in the United States each year. Experts believe that environmental and genetic causes contribute to the development of the condition, but are unsure of what ultimately causes the condition to develop. The development of hairy cell leukemia has occurred in members of the same family without the presence of environmental factors, leading researchers to believe that some cases of the disorder are obtained genetically. Exposure to high levels of carcinogenic chemicals, such as benzene, has also been implicated as a contributor to the development of hairy cell leukemia. Long term exposure to high levels of benzene in an occupational or environmental area has been linked to the development of a large number of different disorders, including numerous types of cancer.
The typically symptoms that appear with the development of hairy cell leukemia are generic and can be mistaken for the common symptoms of many other conditions. The initial symptoms that may appear include loss of appetite, weight loss, fever, chills, and discomfort in the abdomen. As the production of abnormal blood cells continues and the level of healthy blood cells decreases, other signs of the condition begin to appear. As the level of healthy red blood cells in the body decreases, anemia can develop causing fatigue, pale skin, shortness of breath, and muscle weakness. A drop in the level of healthy white blood cells leaves the body vulnerable to infections and is characterized by frequent infections that last for a long period of time. A reduction in the level of platelets in the blood causes easy, uncontrollable bleeding and an inability of the blood to clot. Low platelet levels can result in the appearance of bruises with no injury, wounds that will not heal, and pin sized spots of blood pooling in the pores of the skin.
Hairy cell leukemia is typically diagnosed after an individual seeks medical treatment for relief of the initial symptoms, which can last for a long period of time. Treatment methods for hairy cell leukemia include chemotherapy, biological therapy, and surgery. The type of treatment used depends on the health of the individual, the stage that the condition is diagnosed in, and how fast the condition is progressing. In some cases where hairy cell leukemia is diagnosed early, the physician may recommend to delay treatment until the condition begins to interfere with the patient’s quality of life.
Related Article: Hairy Cell Leukemia: Causes & Risk Factors
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