Treatment to remove abnormal white blood cells (leukapheresis)

Leukapheresis is a way of removing abnormal white blood cells from the blood. You might have this treatment if you have a very high white blood cell count.

Very high numbers of leukaemia cells in the blood can cause problems with normal circulation. You need to have your blood cell count lowered quickly if this happens. Chemotherapy can lower the number of leukaemia cells in the blood but it takes a few days to work. You might have leukapheresis in the meantime.

Before your leukapheresis treatment

There is no special preparation for leukapheresis.

It is often done urgently and might happen right away when you get to the hospital.

What happens

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 takes out 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.

Your doctor might use your central line if you have one, instead of putting tubes into veins in both arms.

You are awake while you have your treatment. It takes about 2 to 3 hours.

Leukapheresis is not painful but some people find it uncomfortable to stay sitting or lying down in the same place for a couple of hours.

After leukapheresis

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.

You might keep the two drip tubes in, in case you need further leukapheresis treatment.

Side effects

Your blood calcium level might go down. This causes:
  • numbness and tingling - especially in your hands, feet and mouth
  • painful muscle spasms

Let your treatment team know if you have these side effects. They can give you calcium through a drip to help.

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