Our website will soon be relaunched with a fresh look and improved user experience. Take a look by visiting our test site.
Call us 24/7 at (888) 552-6760
Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Hairy cell leukemia

Hairy cell leukemia (HCL) is a rare subtype of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) that progresses slowly. HCL is caused when bone marrow makes too many B cells (lymphocytes), a type of white blood cell that fights infection. As the number of leukemia cells increases, fewer healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets are produced. This type of leukemia gets its name from the way the cells look under the microscope—with fine fragments that make them look "hairy." HCL affects more men than women, and it occurs most commonly in middle-aged or older adults. HCL is considered a chronic disease because it may never completely disappear.

Common hairy cell leukemia symptoms

Symptoms of HCL may include:

  • Weakness or feeling tired
  • Recurrent infections and fevers
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pain or a feeling of fullness below the ribs
  • Painless lumps in the neck, underarm, stomach or groin
  • Swollen lymph nodes

NOTE: These symptoms may be attributed to a number of conditions other than cancer. It is important to consult with a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis.

Advanced treatments for hairy cell leukemia

Treatment may not be needed for people in the early stages of hairy cell leukemia. Because this cancer progresses very slowly and sometimes doesn't progress at all, treatment is often recommended only after signs and symptoms develop. The majority of patients with hairy cell leukemia eventually require treatment.

Common tongue cancer treatments include:

Chemotherapy: Anti-cancer drugs are considered the first-line treatment for HCL and are the most commonly used treatment. For most HCL patients, chemotherapy drugs may eliminate the cancer for many years. 

Immunotherapy: These drugs are designed to boost the body’s immune system to recognize and destroy the cancer.

Surgery: The spleen helps make the body’s white cells. Surgery to remove the spleen may be an option if the spleen ruptures or if it is enlarged and causing pain. A splenectomy may improve blood counts, but it is not likely to eliminate the disease.


Last Revised: 01/27/2017

We're here to guide you through the cancer journey

We understand you may be feeling overwhelmed with questions and concerns about your type of cancer and what it all means. We're here to help guide you through the process.

Our hospital
Explore our cancer hospitals, which house the latest treatments, technologies and supportive care services under one roof.
Patient centered
Discover our patient-centered approach, and how you get all your questions answered in a single visit by a dedicated team of cancer experts.
Contact us
Discuss treatment options with an Oncology Information Specialist, who is available 24/7 at (888) 552-6760, or chat with us.

Infographic: What is leukemia?


Leukemia is the ninth most common cancer. It occurs when cells in the bone marrow or blood become defective and multiply uncontrollably.