What is leukapheresis?

Leukapheresis is a procedure used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) or patients with very high white blood cell counts. During leukapheresis, your blood passes through a machine that takes out the white blood cells and returns all the other blood cells and plasma back into the bloodstream.

The goal of leukapheresis is to quickly get the number of leukemia cells down. Most patients need chemotherapy, monoclonal antibody treatment or targeted therapy to kill the remaining cancer cells to prevent the cell count going back up over time.

Who is a candidate for leukapheresis?

Leukapheresis may be a treatment option in the following situations:

  • Patient has a very high white blood cell count
  • Doctor needs a patient’s blood cells for transplant back into the patient at a later date
  • To obtain cells for research

Side effects associated with leukapheresis

Leukapheresis can cause a variety of side effects including:

  • Numbness and tingling in the hands, feet and around the mouth
  • Muscle spasms

What to expect during leukapheresis

During a leukapheresis, your care team will insert two intravenous (IV) lines into your body. One IV line will remove blood while the other will carry the cleaned blood back to the body. The procedure takes approximately two to three hours to complete.

Although leukapheresis is not painful, some patients are uncomfortable sitting or lying in the same place for the duration of the procedure.

What to expect after leukapheresis

The white blood cells that were removed are collected and sent to a laboratory for processing. After they are complete, the cells with be transferred back to your doctor so they can be transfused back into your body.

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