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 (leukemia).

What is leukapheresis?

Some people have a very high number of white blood cells in their blood when they are diagnosed with leukaemia (also spelt leukemia). The cells can gather in the blood vessels and cause problems such as headaches or blurred vision. Doctors can remove some white blood cells from the blood using a machine called a cell separator. This is called leukapheresis. It may also be used for if you are pregnant when you are diagnosed.

Having leukapheresis

During leukapheresis treatment, 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.


Useful words to know

When you are dealing with leukaemia, you may come across lots of new words and not know what they mean.

Some of these words are explained here. If you need more information or support, you can call the Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00.

Blood cells

Cells which are found mainly in the blood. The 3 main types of blood cell are red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

Blood vessels

A network of tubes called arteries, veins and capillaries that carry blood around the body.


A short, thin tube a doctor or nurse puts into a vein in the arm or the back of the hand. It can be used to give you fluids and treatment or to take blood.


Cancer of the blood cells.

White blood cells

Cells in your blood that fight and prevent infection. There are several types of white blood cell. The 2 most important types are neutrophils and lymphocytes.

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

    Smith G, Apperley J, Milojkovic D, et al. A British Society for Haematology Guideline on the diagnosis and management of chronic myeloid leukaemia. British Journal of Haematology, 2020; 191, 2, Available from https://b-s-h.org.uk/ [accessed on October 2020].

    Hochhaus A, Saussele S, Rosti G, et al. Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines. Annals of Oncology, 2017; 28 (suppl 4), iv41-iv51. Available from https://www.esmo.org/ [accessed on October 2020].

  • 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.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
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We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 March 2022
Next review: 01 March 2025
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.