One of the very rare adult cancers is hairy cell leukemia. It affects men and women, but is 4 times more common in men. The common age group to develop this type of leukemia is 40 to 70 years. The hairy cell leukemia prognosis is far better and brighter than other leukemias. Let us have a look at what is hairy cell leukemia and know more about the survival rate of this cancer.
What is Hairy Cell Leukemia?
Hairy cell leukemia is a type of bone marrow cancer, in which too many lymphocytes are produced. This is a cancer of the blood as well as bone marrow. The blood stem cells tend to develop into more than the required number of lymphocytes. These are abnormal lymphocytes that do not develop into healthy and normal white blood cells.
They are also known as leukemic cells. The space for healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets is soon taken over by these leukemic cells in the blood and bone marrow. This imbalance leads to infection, anemia, bleeding, etc. This type of leukemia gets its name from the hair-like projections on the abnormally shaped lymphocytes. Thus, the cancer is called hairy cell leukemia.
The cause of this leukemia is unknown. However, it is thought to occur due to a DNA glitch that causes more white blood cell production. The cause of this mutation that occurs in the DNA is still unknown. Hairy cell leukemia is a chronic disease as there is no cure for it.
Hairy cell leukemia is a slow growing cancer and it may take years to realize that one is suffering from this form of leukemia. Most of the time, it is detected by chance during a routine blood test. A few people may experience hairy cell leukemia symptoms such as -
- Recurring infections
- Easy bruising
- Weight loss
- Feeling of fullness that causes one to eat very little at a time
- Tender and enlarged spleen in some due to collecting leukemia cells
The doctor may discover 'hairy cells' during a routine blood check up. For further diagnosis, you may be asked to give a sample of your bone marrow. Once the leukemia is confirmed, the doctor will start with the treatment. As this is a slow growing cancer, the doctor won't start with some heavy duty cancer treatment right away. He may wait and check the progress of the disease with regular blood check ups.
Most of the time, people never need any kind of treatment as the cancer is very slow growing. Those who do require treatment may be given chemotherapy drugs such as cladribine and pentostatin. Other treatment options include immunotherapeutic drugs like interferon and rituximab. If the spleen has become enlarged and very painful, one may have to undergo splenectomy (removal of spleen).
After one undergoes treatment for hairy cell leukemia, the disease undergoes remission. This state of remission can last for many years. Thus, the chances of recovery from hairy cell leukemia is 95%. Apart from this positive prognosis for hairy cell leukemia, the survival rate too is excellent. Most patients live a normal life span and the progress of the disease remains under control.
Patients with hairy cell leukemia are never officially considered cured. This is because it is an incurable disease. Hairy cell leukemia prognosis shows that the disease goes into remission for about 10 years. There are chances of a relapse and thus one has to be monitored for life. However, hairy cell leukemia survival rate is good and one is able to live for a normal life span without many issues. If you have any queries, speak to your health care provider for detailed information on hairy cell leukemia.