Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis
Langerhans cell histiocytosis is also called histiocytosis X. It is a condition in
which the level of a type of immune cell, called a Langerhans cell, is abnormally
high. In the past, Langerhans cell histiocytosis has been considered to be a type
of cancer or a condition similar to cancer. Researchers are now discovering that it
is more likely tied to an autoimmune response and happens when the body's immune system
What is Langerhans cell histiocytosis?
Langerhans cell histiocytosis causes damage to tissues throughout the body. The excess
Langerhans cells, which are a type of white blood cell, flow throughout the body.
They build up in areas such as the skin, bones, bone marrow, lymph nodes, mouth, spleen,
liver, lungs, pituitary gland, and central nervous system, creating tumors.
Everyone has Langerhans cells, which are a form of white cell usually found in the
lymph nodes, spleen, skin, liver, lungs, and bone marrow. (Click to Enlarge)
What are the symptoms of Langerhans cell histiocytosis?
The symptoms of Langerhans cell histiocytosis depend on where in the body the Langerhans
cells build up. These are possible symptoms:
Pain in the belly or in the bones
Poor growth or failure to thrive
Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes
Urinating often and having constant thirst (caused by diabetes insipidus)
Dark red or brown lesions on the skin, especially on the face, scalp, back, and groin
Persistent drainage from the ear
Flaking skin on the scalp similar to cradle cap
Problems with the thyroid
Problems with balance, memory, or behavior
Swelling of the gums, mouth sores, and tooth loss
How is Langerhans cell histiocystosis diagnosed?
A healthcare provider may diagnose Langerhans cell histiocytosis through a combination
of tests, including:
Complete physical exam
Discussion of symptoms or illnesses
Neurological exam to evaluate the spinal cord, brain, nerves, and mental functioning
A number of lab tests may also be performed to diagnose the condition. These include
blood tests, urine tests, and a biopsy of the bone marrow. Imaging tests, including
a bone scan, CT scan, MRI, ultrasound, and PET scan may also be performed.
How is Langerhans cell histiocytosis treated?
Treatment for Langerhans cell histiocytosis typically includes those designed to treat
Some patients with Langerhans cell histiocytosis may opt for "watchful waiting." This
means the symptoms and progress of the condition are closely monitored but active
treatment is postponed until there is a change in the condition.
When to seek medical care
Parents should monitor children carefully and look for any warning signs of Langerhans
cell histiocytosis. Bring up any concerns, growth problems, or unusual symptoms to
your child's healthcare provider.
Can Langerhans cell histiocytosis be prevented?
Because the cause of Langerhans cell histiocytosis is unknown, there is no known way
to prevent the condition. Having a family history of thyroid disease may increase
Some factors can increase a person's risk of developing the condition. People should
limit their exposure to certain chemicals, including benzene.
What are the complications of Langerhans cell histiocytosis?
If untreated, Langerhans cell histiocytosis can cause damage to tissues and organs
throughout the body. One example is pulmonary histiocytosis, in which the lungs are
damaged. Damage to the body can be so severe that the condition becomes fatal. Other
complications may include:
Key points about Langerhans cell histiocytosis
Langerhans cell histiocytosis is a rare condition.
Early recognition of symptoms and prompt diagnosis and treatment can help reduce the
risk for complications and slow the progression of the disease.
Clinical trials are being performed to find new, better ways to treat this condition.