Langerhans' Cell Histiocytosis

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In Langerhans cell histiocytosis, certain white blood cells, called Langerhans cells, grow out of control. In a healthy person, these cells help defend against infection. But in histiocytosis, the cells multiply so quickly that they build up and can damage the body instead of protect it. Except for their rapid growth, the cells are normal. This disease is not cancer. But it is similar. Doctors who treat cancer and blood diseases also treat histiocytosis.

Some people with this disease have excess cells and damage in only one site or organ in their bodies. Others have excess cells in many places throughout their bodies. The bones are the most common sites of damage -- mainly the bones in the skull but also in other places, such as the spine, arms, and legs. This disease can affect many body systems.

About 80 to 90 percent of children recover from this disease with treatment. Sometimes it goes away slowly on its own. It can be serious, even fatal in severe cases. It can also come back later in life. Langerhans cell histiocytosis has had other names, and there are subtypes of the disease. So you may hear or see one of these names:

  • Diffuse reticuloendotheliosis 
  • Eosinophilic granuloma 
  • Hand-Schüller-Christian disease 
  • Hashimoto-Pritzker syndrome
  • Histiocytosis X 
  • Langerhans cell granulomatosis 
  • Letterer-Siwe disease 
  • Non-lipid reticuloendotheliosis 
  • Type II histiocytosis

Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis in Children

A person of any age can get histiocytosis, but it is more common in children. About three-quarters of people with the disease get it before age 10. It is most common in children 1 to 3 years old.

Doctors do not know what causes this disease, but are actively researching the causes and treatment for histiocytosis. It may be an abnormality in the person's immune system but it is not inherited or communicable, passed from person to person.

Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis at Seattle Children's

This is a rare disease, and not many doctors have experience treating it. At Seattle Children's, our doctors and other members of your child's team have worked with many children with histiocytosis. We can offer the latest treatments for your child.

The team that takes care of children with this disease includes cancer doctors (oncologists), nurse practitioners, and surgeons.

The type of surgeon depends on where the child has the disease. For example, an orthopedic surgeon treats disease in the bone. Neurosurgeons or oto-rhino-laryngologists (ear, nose, and throat doctors) most often treat disease in the skull. Pediatric oncologists coordinate the care because it is so specialized and may vary greatly from patient to patient.

Read more about cancer programs and services at Seattle Children's.

Children’s blood disorders program brings together experts from more than 20 subspecialties to provide diagnostic services and treatments, including the very latest options. The team of pediatric hematologists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, child life specialists, and chaplains partner with you to provide expert, family-centered care and compassionate support. We help you understand your child’s health and treatment options because you, your child and your family are an important part of the care team.
Because Children’s doctors take part in national and international research studies, and often lead them, Children’s can offer new treatment options that many other hospitals cannot give their patients.  

Read more about Langerhans’ Cell Histiocytosis on the Seattle Children’s web site.

To make an appointment, call Seattle Children's at (206) 987-2106.