BMJ Case Reports 2009; doi:10.1136/bcr.05.2009.1833
  • Rare disease

Natural killer cell leukaemia

  1. Jamish Gandhi
  1. Hutt Hospital, General Surgery and Gynaecology, 1027 High Street, Avalon, Lower Hutt, 5011, New Zealand
  1. Jamish Gandhi, j.gandhi{at}
  • Published 1 September 2009


A 42-year-old white woman, who was a general practitioner referral to the medical team, presented with a 3-day history of left upper quadrant pain; an urgent private ultrasound scan had showed splenomegaly. She was initially admitted with sepsis without an obvious cause but with a differential diagnosis of a haematological malignancy. Her admission blood tests showed a mildly reduced white cell count and low platelets. Her symptoms progressed and she developed right upper quadrant pain. Her blood counts deteriorated showing a disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) picture and mildly deranged liver function tests. Blood films were non-diagnostic. A CT scan of the abdomen/pelvis showed splenomegaly and also hepatomegaly and ascites, not seen in her initial ultrasound scan. Multiple cultures of blood/urine/ascites and infective serology were unremarkable.

She was transferred to a larger tertiary centre under the care of the surgeons with presumed abdominal sepsis and underwent an open laparotomy, which showed a big firm liver and spleen but no obvious cause for sepsis. The infectious disease team were unable to find a cause, and haematology became involved to investigate the possibility of a haematological malignancy. The patient underwent two bone marrow biopsies, a percutaneous liver biopsy and had flow cytometry of her ascitic fluid, which revealed the diagnosis of a natural killer cell leukaemia. After some slight improvement on steroids, the patient was given cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, prednisone, rituximab (CHOP-R) chemotherapy. The patient had an initial response to chemotherapy, with reduction in ascitic volume and hepatosplenomegaly, and normalisation of her coagulation. This was accompanied by an overall improvement in her physical condition. She had a second cycle of CHOP-R, but unfortunately approximately 2 weeks after that, she deteriorated rapidly. She was too weak for salvage chemotherapy, so she was put on comfort care. She died peacefully.


  • Competing interests: None.

  • Patient consent: Patient/guardian consent was obtained for publication.

Register for free content

The full text of all Editor's Choice articles and summaries of every article are free without registration

The full text of Images in ... articles are free to registered users

Only fellows can access the full text of case reports (apart from Editor's Choice) - become a fellow today, or encourage your institution to, so that together we can grow and develop this resource

Don't forget to sign up for content alerts so you keep up to date with all the case reports as they are published, and let us know what you think by commenting on the Editor's blog

Navigate This Article