Cancer Home > What Is Cladribine Used For?

As a type of chemotherapy treatment, cladribine is prescribed to treat hairy cell leukemia, a slow-growing cancer that affects the bone marrow and blood cells. This drug works by preventing DNA from replicating, a process needed in order for cancer cells to grow and multiply. Cladribine can also be used for treating other conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

An Overview of Uses for Cladribine

Cladribine (Leustatin®) is a prescription medication approved to treat hairy cell leukemia, a rare type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Hairy cell leukemia occurs when the bone marrow (the soft, blood cell-making middle portion of some bones) produces too many abnormal B-cells (also called B-lymphocytes), a type of white blood cell.
The abnormal B-cells in hairy cell leukemia have hair-like projections that can be seen when the cells are viewed under a microscope. This is what gives the condition its name.
The cause of hairy cell leukemia is unknown. However, the disease is most common in middle-aged men. It is less likely to affect women.
Hairy cell leukemia is a chronic leukemia, which means it progresses slowly. As the abnormal lymphocytes (also called leukemia cells) accumulate in the blood and bone marrow, they can interfere with normal bone marrow function and crowd out normal, healthy blood cells.
One of the potential consequences of hairy cell leukemia is an abnormally low number of normal white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets, which can lead to infections, anemia, and easy bleeding. In addition, some of the leukemia cells may collect in the spleen and liver, causing these organs to swell.
Hairy cell leukemia is a highly treatable type of cancer, and there are several different ways of treating it. In some cases, especially in the early stages, treatment may not be needed at all. When treatment is used, it may include surgery to remove the spleen, chemotherapy, or biologic therapy (see Hairy Cell Leukemia Treatment for more information).
Cladribine is generally a first-line treatment for hairy cell leukemia. It is approved for use when the condition is active, which means a person is experiencing symptoms or has significantly low blood cell counts.
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Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
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