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It's important that your doctor is experienced in treating patients with hairy cell leukemia or works in consultation with a hairy cell leukemia specialist. This type of specialist is usually called a hematologist oncologist.

Types of Hairy Cell Leukemia Treatment

For many people with hairy cell leukemia, starting treatment helps them focus on moving ahead and looking forward to their disease's remission.

Several types of approaches and treatment are used for adults with hairy cell leukemia, some at different stages:

Finding the Best Treatment Approach

The goal of hairy cell leukemia treatment is to achieve a complete remission (when there are no signs of the disease). A complete remission means that:

  • Hairy cells can't be identified in the blood and bone marrow
  • The liver, spleen and lymph nodes are a normal size
  • Blood cell and marrow cell counts have returned to normal

Most people with hairy cell leukemia receive treatment immediately after they're diagnosed or at some point during the disease's course. A small percentage of patients may not need immediate treatment. Instead, they'll be monitored until signs and symptoms of the disease appear.

As you develop a treatment plan with your doctor, be sure to discuss:

  • The results you can expect from treatment
  • Potential side effects, including long-term and late effects
  • The possibility of participating in a clinical trial, where you'll have access to advanced medical treatment that may be more beneficial to you than standard treatment

You may find it helpful to bring a loved one with you to your doctor's visits for support and to take notes and ask follow-up questions. You can also record your conversations with your doctor and listen more closely when you get home.

To download lists of suggested questions to ask your healthcare providers, click here.

Other Treatment Considerations

  • If you're age 60 or older, your treatment may vary from standard approaches. For instance, your body may not be able to tolerate toxic chemotherapy drugs or you may have other ailments that are more common as we age. These factors, among others, may make choosing a treatment more complicated.
  • If your cancer has returned (relapsed) or it's still present after you finish standard therapy (refractory leukemia), you might have a different treatment approach than the first time around. See Refractory and Relapsed.

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