Hairy cell leukemia is a rare, slow-growing cancer of the blood in which your bone marrow makes too many B cells (lymphocytes), a type of white blood cell that fights infection. The etiology of hairy cell leukemia has not been determined, although some investigators suggest that exposures to benzene, organophosphorus insecticides, or other solvents may be related to disease development.
These excess B cells are abnormal and look "hairy" under a microscope. Common symptoms of HCL includes persistently feeling tired, weakness, weight loss for no reason, shortness of breath, excessive sweating (most often at night), swollen lymph nodes, frequent infections and fevers, small red spots on the skin. The main treatment for hairy cell leukemia is chemotherapy, purine analog drugs either cladribine (2-CdA) or pentostatin, monoclonal antibody rituximab, surgery or interferon alpha.
Hairy cell leukemia is observed more commonly in whites. It has been reported to occur in Ashkenazi Jews, and it is rare in Japan and in those of African descent. Only 2 of 40 deaths were attributed to hairy cell leukemia in Mexico. (80%-91%). The disease occurs predominantly in middle-aged men, with a median age of 52 years. The male-to-female ratio is 4:1 to 5:1.