Hairy cell leukemia is a slowly progressing condition which may not require treatment for a long period of time after diagnosis. The condition typically does not show any signs or symptoms of the condition until it has reached an aggressive stage where treatment will be necessary. Because the condition progresses slowly and sometimes does not progress at all, many individuals will not require treatment for months. A large percentage of cases of hairy cell leukemia are diagnosed after the receipt of abnormal blood test results, before any symptoms of the disorder have appeared. Symptoms of hairy cell leukemia may not appear for months after diagnosis and even then may be mild enough to not interfere with the patient’s quality of life to a great degree.
Some physicians recommend that individuals that are not experiencing symptoms of hairy cell leukemia should delay treatment for the condition until symptoms begin to show. Research shows that there is no benefit to early treatment of the condition and many of the treatments used to control the symptoms of hairy cell leukemia can cause damage to the body as well. Many of the treatments used to manage the effects of hairy cell leukemia will require hospitalization and a lengthy recovery period. Although most individuals that have developed hairy cell leukemia will eventually need some type of treatment, delaying the start of treatment until the symptoms begin to interfere with the individual’s quality of life will allow the individual to enjoy their health and regular activities for a longer period of time.
There is no known cure for hairy cell leukemia and current treatments are intended to manage the symptoms of the condition and, hopefully, bring the condition into remission. In some cases, the proper use of current treatments can place the condition into remission for years and some individuals have effectively managed hairy cell leukemia for as long as ten years. Hairy cell leukemia is treatable in all stages of the condition, from mild to severe, and the treatment used will vary with the needs of the individual. The physician will review the age of the patient, the general health of the patient, the stage that hairy cell leukemia was diagnosed in, and how quickly the condition is progressing before making a determination of what treatment would work the best.
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Chemotherapy medications are generally the first treatment used by physicians to manage hairy cell leukemia. Chemotherapy brings the remission of hairy cell leukemia in close to 90% of the individuals that use this line of treatment. With chemotherapy, medications are either taken orally or injected directly into the blood stream to kill the abnormal cells produced by hairy cell leukemia. The medications cannot tell the difference between healthy cells and abnormal cells, so it tends to kill large numbers of both. Individuals who have undergone chemotherapy as a treatment for hairy cell leukemia will need time to recover from the damage the medications have done to the body, but if a large enough amount of abnormal cells are destroyed, then the individual may be free of the symptoms of hairy cell leukemia for months.
Other therapies used to control the effects of hairy cell leukemia include biological therapy and surgery. With biological therapy, the immune system of the body is programmed to attack the abnormal cells caused by hairy cell leukemia allowing the body’s natural defenses to kill the cancerous cells. Surgery may be required to remove the individual’s enlarged spleen as that is where many of the abnormal blood cells tend to collect, causing swelling and discomfort. If the spleen bursts from the number of abnormal cells present, it is considered a life threatening development requiring emergency medical treatment.
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