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Cancer Health Center

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Hairy Cell Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Treatment for Hairy Cell Leukemia

Untreated Hairy Cell Leukemia

Hairy cell leukemia is a highly treatable disease. Since it is easily controlled, many patients have prolonged survival with sequential therapies. The decision to treat is based on cytopenias (especially if symptomatic), increasing splenomegaly, indications that the disease is progressing, or the presence of other, usually infectious complications. It is reasonable to offer no therapy if the patient is asymptomatic and blood counts are maintained in an acceptable range.[1]

Recommended Related to Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Understanding Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma -- Diagnosis & Treatment

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is diagnosed by a tissue biopsy. If there is an enlarged, painless lymph node, without of an infection, a biopsy will be needed. To perform a lymph node biopsy a doctor will cut into the lymph node to remove a sample of tissue or remove the entire lymph node. If the biopsy shows non-Hodgkin lymphoma, further testing will be needed to determine the specific type as well as to determine the stage of disease. Depending on your specific symptoms, the type of the lymphoma, its site...

Read the Understanding Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma -- Diagnosis & Treatment article > >

Progressive Hairy Cell Leukemia

Standard treatment options:

  1. Cladribine (2-chlorodeoxyadenosine, 2-CdA) given intravenously by continuous infusion, by daily subcutaneous injections, or by 2-hour infusions daily for 5 to 7 days, results in a complete response rate of 50% to 80% and an overall response rate of 85% to 95%.[1,2,3,4,5,6,7] The response rate was lower in 979 patients treated with the Group C mechanism of the National Cancer Institute (i.e., 50% complete remission rate, 37% partial remission rate).[3] Responses are durable with this short course of therapy, and patients who relapse often respond to retreatment with cladribine.[8,9,10] This drug may cause fever and immunosuppression with documented infection in 33% of treated patients.[3] In a retrospective study of patients with cladribine-associated neutropenic fever, filgrastim (G-CSF) did not demonstrate a decrease in the percentage of febrile patients, number of febrile days, or frequency of admissions for antibiotics.[11] (Refer to the PDQ summary on Fever, Sweats, and Hot Flashes for more information on fever.) A potential increased risk for second malignancies with this agent remains controversial.
  2. Pentostatin given intravenously every other week for 3 to 6 months produces a 50% to 76% complete response rate and an 80% to 87% overall response rate.[12,13] Complete remissions are of substantial duration. In two trials with 9-year median follow-up, relapse-free survival ranged from 56% to 67%.[14,15] Side effects include fever, immunosuppression, cytopenias, and renal dysfunction. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Fever, Sweats, and Hot Flashes for more information on fever.) A randomized comparison of pentostatin and interferon-alpha demonstrated higher and more durable responses to pentostatin.[12]
  3. Interferon-alpha given subcutaneously 3 times per week for 1 year yields a 10% complete response rate and an 80% overall response rate. The drug frequently produces an influenza-like syndrome early in the course of treatment. Late effects include depression and lethargy. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Depression for more information on lethargy; refer to the PDQ summary on Fatigue.) Responding patients who relapse usually respond to retreatment with interferon-alpha.[16] Remission can be prolonged with a low-dose maintenance regimen.[17] A randomized comparison of pentostatin and interferon-alpha demonstrated significantly higher and more durable responses to pentostatin.[12]
  4. Splenectomy will partially or completely normalize the peripheral blood in the vast majority of patients with hairy cell leukemia.[18] Usually little or no change occurs in the bone marrow after splenectomy, and virtually all patients have progressive disease within 12 to 18 months. Therefore, since a number of more effective alternatives are available, splenectomy is playing a decreasing role in the treatment of this disease.
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