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Blood. 2010 Jan 7;115(1):21-8. doi: 10.1182/blood-2009-06-195370. Epub 2009 Oct 20.

How I treat hairy cell leukemia.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA.


The description of hairy cell leukemia as a specific clinical entity was published 50 years ago. The clinical outcome for patients was hampered by ineffective chemotherapy, and splenectomy was the major therapeutic approach to improve peripheral blood counts. The median survival after diagnosis was 4 years. With the introduction of alpha-interferon in 1984, marked improvements in patient responses were observed. Shortly thereafter, the introduction of the purine nucleoside analogs transformed this disease into a highly treatable form of leukemia, and patients with the classic form of this rare leukemia now have a near-normal life expectancy. However, other clinical entities mimicking this disease do not respond; thus, accurate diagnosis is important. Immunophenotypic features in classic hairy cell leukemia show that the leukemic cells express CD11c, CD25, CD103, and CD123 and display bright CD20. Despite the high percentage of durable complete remissions with modern therapy, the long-term disease-free survival curves have not reached a plateau. Many patients who achieve a complete remission by morphologic criteria have minimal residual disease demonstrable by either flow cytometry or immunohistochemical staining, and this population may be at higher risk for earlier relapse. Continued clinical research is essential to optimize therapy for this disease.


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