Discovered in 1958 by Ohio State University cancer researcher Bertha Bouroncle, M.D., hairy cell leukemia, or HCL, is a rare form of cancer in the blood and bone marrow that affects white blood cells.

Today, highly successful therapies developed here at the OSUCCC – James mean that HCL patients who receive targeted, individualized treatment can successfully maintain a normal quality of life. In fact, because of the landmark work done by the OSUCCC – James experts, HCL’s overall complete remission rate is about 85 percent, with nearly 70 percent of those patients remaining in remission 10 years after treatment.

Additionally, these international experts have formed the Hairy Cell Leukemia Research Foundation to promote knowledge and education on HCL for other medical professionals as well as for patients and their families. As a result, Ohio State has been designated a Hairy Cell Leukemia Center of Excellence and is home to a dedicated, internationally recognized HCL clinic.

Every person’s cancer is different, with individually unique genes and molecules driving that disease. At the OSUCCC – James, our leukemia subspecialists are world-renowned experts who focus solely on blood and bone marrow disorders and who reach across medical disciplines (hematologists, radiation oncologists, molecular and biological pathologists, genetic scientists and more) to design the very best treatment plan and therapies to target each patient’s specific leukemia.

And by offering central Ohio’s only blood and bone marrow transplantation service as well as access to the country’s most advanced clinical trials right here at the OSUCCC – James, patients know that additional options, when needed, are always available for their treatment and care.

What is Hairy Cell Leukemia?

Discovered in 1958 by Ohio State University cancer researcher Dr. Bertha Bouroncle, hairy cell leukemia is a rare form of cancer in the blood and bone marrow that affects white blood cells.

When too many blood stem cells become unhealthy white blood cells, they’re called malignant lymphocytes, also known as leukemia cells. Because these cells circulate in the bloodstream, it is a form of leukemia. In HCL, the leukemia cells build up in the blood and bone marrow, making less room for healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. That imbalance of unhealthy versus healthy cells can cause infection, anemia and easy bleeding.

Some of the leukemia cells may also collect in the spleen, liver, or lymph nodes, causing them to enlarge.

HCL, which gets its name from the hairy look these leukemia cells have under a microscope, accounts for about 2 percent of all leukemias diagnosed in the United States (about 500 diagnoses per year), and onset typically occurs later in life.

It is seven times more common in elderly men than women. Though once considered a fatal disease, groundbreaking discoveries right here at the OSUCCC – James mean HCL can now be effectively treated with targeted therapies designed specifically for each patient, leading to improved outcomes, faster responses and fewer side effects.

Hairy Cell Leukemia Symptoms

Hairy cell leukemia (HCL) symptoms include:

  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Frequent infections
  • Shortness of breath
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Painless lumps, especially near the neck, underarm, stomach and groin

HCL patients are prone to infections, too, so when designing a targeted treatment plan for each patient, the OSUCCC – James experts will weigh a number of factors, including whether or not the patient has low blood cell counts such as anemia, low platelets, or other problems. They will also look for other complications, such as an enlarged spleen.

(Source: National Cancer Institute)

Having symptoms does not necessarily mean you have hairy cell leukemia. But if you have symptoms, you should tell your doctor, especially if symptoms are severe or have continued for longer than a few weeks.

If you’ve been diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia, would like a second opinion or would like to speak with a leukemia specialist, please call The James Line at 800-293-5066 or 614-293-5066 to make an appointment.

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