Some white blood cell diseases are characterized by an insufficient number of white blood cells. This can be caused by the failure of the bone marrow to produce adequate numbers of normal white blood cells, or by diseases that lead to the destruction of crucial white blood cells. These conditions result in severe immune deficiencies characterized by recurrent infections.
Leukemia, or cancer of the blood, occurs when blood cell precursors become abnormal and divide in an uncontrolled manner. Pathologists can distinguish various types of leukemia by the appearance of the cancerous cells underneath a microscope. Hairy cell leukemia, a rare form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, is characterized by cells with minute, hairlike projections on their surface.
Any disease in which excess white blood cells are produced, particularly immature white blood cells, is called leukemia, or blood cancer. Many cases of leukemia are linked to gene abnormalities, resulting in unchecked growth of immature white blood cells. If this growth is not halted, it often results in the death of the patient. These genetic abnormalities are not inherited in the vast majority of cases, but rather occur after birth. Although some causes of these abnormalities are known, for example exposure to high doses of radiation or the chemical benzene, most remain poorly understood.
Treatment for leukemia typically involves the use of chemotherapy, in which strong drugs are used to target and kill leukemic cells, permitting normal cells to regenerate. In some cases, bone marrow transplants are effective. Much progress has been made over the last 30 years in the treatment of this disease. In one type of childhood leukemia, more than 80 percent of patients can now be cured of their disease.