In hairy cell leukemia, abnormal and immature white blood cells produced in the bone marrow lead to several complications and symptoms.
The hairy cells begin to multiply excessively and disrupt the normal balance of blood cells in the bone marrow. As a result, the amount of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets is reduced.
Some of the symptoms of hairy cell leukemia include:
- A depleted red blood cell count causes anemia, which presents with pale skin, weakness, fatigue and shortness of breath.
- A reduced number of mature white blood cells means the immune system is compromised. The patient is then susceptible to frequent infections such as pneumonia and urinary tract infection.
- A reduced platelet count means there is a tendency to bleed excessively, even on minor trauma. The patient may also bruise more easily.
- Unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite are common clinical features that are seen in most leukemia cases.
- Night sweats.
- Spleen enlargement is a common feature of hairy cell leukemia, which may be felt as a lump in the upper left side of the abdomen.
- Hairy cell leukemia is a slow growing cancer and symptoms may take years to manifest.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc