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In HCL, the abnormal white blood cells also build up in the spleen and cause it to grow.
An enlarged spleen may remove normal blood cells from the bloodstream.
The spleen is an organ on the left side of the tummy, underneath the ribs.
It produces small numbers of lymphocytes, stores blood cells and destroys older, damaged blood cells. It occurs mostly in people aged 40-60 and is more common in men than in women. HCL affects a type of white blood cell called a B‑lymphocyte.
Blood cells are made in the bone marrow (the spongy part inside some bones).
All your blood cells are made from special cells called stem cells, which grow and develop in the bone marrow.
Over time these abnormal white cells fill up the bone marrow, reducing the number of normal white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets that can be made.
These leukaemia cells behave differently from healthy white blood cells.
To help you understand leukaemia and its treatment, it’s useful to know a bit about your blood, what it does and how it's made.
This information is about a rare type of chronic leukaemia known as hairy cell leukaemia.
You may find it helpful to read this page with our information about chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), which discusses some of the issues about living with leukaemia. Usually, people with leukaemia have more white blood cells than normal.
This can also reduce the number of red blood cells and normal white blood cells. It is not infectious and cannot be passed on to other people.