What is leukapheresis? | Cancer Research UK
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What is leukapheresis?

Leukapheresis is a way of removing abnormal white blood cells from the blood. There is information on this page about


Why you may have leukapheresis

You may also see this with the spelling leucopheresis or leucapheresis. It is a process that doctors sometimes use for people with a very high white blood cell count, for example in some types of leukaemia.

Very high numbers of leukaemia cells in the blood may cause problems with normal circulation. If this happens, you need to have your blood cell count lowered quickly. Chemotherapy may not lower the number of blood cells until a few days after the first dose. So in the meantime, doctors can use leukapheresis.


Having leukapheresis

Leukapheresis takes about 2 to 3 hours. You lie on a bed or reclining chair, with a tube into a vein in each arm. One tube removes blood and passes it into a machine that removes white blood cells, including the leukaemia cells. The rest of your blood cells and normal blood fluid (plasma) go back into your body through the tube in your other arm. If you have a central line, PICC line or portacath tube in place, your doctor may use this instead of putting tubes into veins in both arms.

The treatment lowers the number of white blood cells straight away. This only lasts for a short time, but it can help until chemotherapy has a chance to work.

Leukapheresis is not painful, but some people find it uncomfortable to stay sitting or lying down in the same place for 2 or 3 hours.


Possible side effects of leukapheresis

Your blood calcium level may go down. Low calcium can cause numbness and tingling, especially in the hands and feet and around the mouth. It can also sometimes cause painful muscle spasms. If you have this, your doctor or nurse will give you calcium into your bloodstream.

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Updated: 19 May 2015