Treatment may not be needed for the early stages of this disease. Some patients may need an occasional blood transfusion.
If treatment is needed because of very low blood counts, chemotherapy drugs can be used.
In most cases, chemotherapy can relieve the symptoms for many years. (When the signs and symptoms go away, you are said to be in remission.)
Removing the spleen may improve blood counts, but is unlikely to cure the disease. Antibiotics can be used to treat infections. People with low blood counts will receive growth factors and, possibly, transfusions.
Most patients with hairy cell leukemia can expect to live 10 years or longer after diagnosis and treatment.
The low blood counts caused by hairy cell leukemia can lead to infections, fatigue, and excessive bleeding.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have significant bleeding. Also call if you have signs of infection, such as a persistent fever, cough, or general ill feeling.
National Cancer Institute: PDQ Hairy Cell Leukemia Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified 02/28/2014. Available at http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/hairy-cell-leukemia/HealthProfessional. Accessed May 29, 2014.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines): Non-Hodgkin's Lymphomas. Version 2.2014. Available at http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/nhl.pdf. Accessed May 29, 2014.
Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.