Langerhans cell histiocytosis (patient information)

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Langerhans cell histiocytosis


What are the symptoms?

What are the causes?

Who is at highest risk?


When to seek urgent medical care?

Treatment options

Where to find medical care for Langerhans cell histiocytosis?


What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Possible complications

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-In-Chief: Lakshmi Gopalakrishnan, M.B.B.S. [2]

Synonyms: Histiocytosis X; Langerhans cell histiocytosis; Eosinophilic granuloma; Pulmonary histiocytosis X; Nonlipid reticuloendotheliosis; Pulmonary Langerhans cell granulomatosis; Hand-Schuller-Christian disease; Letterer-Siwe disease


Histiocytosis is a general name for a group of syndromes that involve an abnormal increase in the number of immune cells called histiocytes. There are three major classes of histiocytosis: Langerhans cell histiocytosis, which is also called histiocytosis X, malignant histiocytosis syndrome (now known as T-cell lymphoma), non-Langerhans cell histiocytosis (also known as hemophagocytic syndrome).

What are the symptoms of Langerhans cell histiocytosis?

  • Histiocytosis X often affects the whole body. A disease that affects the whole body is called a systemic disorder.
  • Symptoms can vary between children and adults, although there can be some overlap. Tumors in weight-bearing bones, such as the legs or spine, may cause the bones to fracture without apparent reason.

Note: Children over 5 years old often have only bone involvement.

What causes Langerhans cell histiocytosis?

Histiocytosis X has typically been thought of as a cancer-like condition. More recently researchers have begun to suspect that it is actually an autoimmune phenomenon, in which immune cells mistakenly attack the body, rather than fight infections. Extra immune cells may form tumors, which can affect various parts of the body including the bones, skull, and other areas.

Some forms of the disorder are genetic.

Histiocytosis X is thought to affect roughly 1 in 200,000 people each year. It is most often seen in children ages 1 to 15. The rate peaks among children ages 5 to10.

Pulmonary histiocytosis X is a specific type of this disorder that involves swelling of the small airways (bronchioles) and small blood vessels in the lungs. It is most common in adults. The inflammation leads to lung stiffening and damage. The cause is unknown. It most often affects those ages 30 to 40, usually cigarette smokers.


  • The tumors produce a "punched-out" look on a bone x-ray. Specific tests vary depending on the age of the patient.
  • Tests in children may also include:
  • Tests in adults may include:

When to seek urgent medical care?

Call your health care provider if you or your child have symptoms of this disorder. Go to the emergency room if shortness of breath or chest pain develop.

Treatment options

  • Children may be given other medications depending on their estimated outlook. Such medications may include:
  • Other treatments may include:

Where to find medical care for Langerhans cell histiocytosis?

Directions to Hospitals Treating Langerhans cell histiocytosis

Prevention of Langerhans cell histiocytosis

  • Complications may include:
  • Children may also develop:

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Histiocytosis X affects many organs and can lead to death.

About half of those with pulmonary histiocytosis see improvement, while others eventually have permanent loss of lung function.

In very young patients, the outlook depends on the specific histiocytosis and severity of the disease. Some children can live a normal life with minimal disease involvement, while others may have a poor outcome. Young children, especially infants, are more likely to have body-wide symptoms that lead to death.

Possible complications

Avoid smoking. Quitting smoking can improve the outcome in people with histiocytosis that affects the lungs.

There is no known prevention for the childhood forms of the disease.



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