Leukapheresis is a process to remove extra white blood cells from the blood. It may be used if someone has very high levels of white blood cells when they are first diagnosed with leukaemia.

What is leukapheresis?

Some people have a very high number of white blood cells in their blood when they are diagnosed with leukaemia. The cells can clog up blood vessels and cause problems. Doctors can remove the extra cells from the blood using a machine called a cell separator. This process is called leukapheresis.

This treatment may also be used for women who are pregnant when they are diagnosed.

Having leukapheresis

You lie on a bed or reclining chair with a small plastic tube (cannula) in each arm. Each cannula is connected to the cell separator by a tube. Blood goes from one of your arms through the tube into the cell separator.

As the blood travels through the cell separator, the machine removes the white blood cells. The rest of your blood and blood cells are then returned to your body through the cannula in your other arm. This takes a few hours.

Leukapheresis is painless, but some people may find it uncomfortable having the cannula put in.

About our information


  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    European Leukemia Net. Recommendations for the management of chronic myeloid leukemia. 2013.

    Hoffbrand V, and Moss P. Hoffbrand’s essential haematology. 7th edition. 2016.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Leukaemia (chronic myeloid) – dastatinib, nilotinib and standard dose imatinib for the first-line treatment of chronic myeloid leukaemia (part review of technology appraisal guidance 70). April 2012.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Technology appraisal guidance. 401/426/425.

    DeVita V, Lawrence T and Rosenberg S. 2016. Lymphomas and leukemias. From Cancer: principles and practice of oncology.


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Anne Parker, Consultant Haematologist.

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