histiocytosis X

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Histiocytosis X



Histiocytosis X is a generic term that refers to an increase in the number of histiocytes, a type of white blood cell, that act as scavengers to remove foreign material from the blood and tissues. Since recent research demonstrated Langerhan cell involvement as well as histiocytes, this led to a proposal that the term Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH) be used in place of histiocytosis X. Either term refers to three separate illnesses (listed in order of increasing severity): eosinophilic granuloma, Hand-Schuller-Christian disease and Letterer-Siwe disease.


Epidermal (skin) Langerhans cells (a form of dendritic cell) accumulate with other immune cells in various parts of the body and cause damage by the release of chemicals. Normally, Langerhans cells recognize foreign material, including bacteria, and stimulate the immune system to react to them. Langerhans cells are usually found in skin, lymph nodes, lungs, and the gastrointestinal tract. Under abnormal conditions these cells affect skin, bone, and the pituitary gland as well as the lungs, intestines, liver, spleen, bone marrow, and brain. Therefore, the disease is not confined to areas where Langerhans cells are normally found. The disease is more common in children than adults and tends to be most severe in very young children.
Histiocytosis X or LCH is a family of related conditions characterized by a distinct inflammatory and proliferative process but differs from each other in which parts of the body are involved. The least severe of the histiocytosis X/LCH family is eosinophilic granuloma. Approximately 60-80% of all diagnosed cases are in this classification, which usually occurs in children aged 5-10 years. The bones are involved 50-75% of the time, which includes the skull or mandible, and the long bones. If the bone marrow is involved, anemia can result. With skull involvement, growths can occur behind the eyes, bulging them forward. One recent case study involved swelling of the eyes caused by histiocytosis in a three-year-old girl. The lungs are involved less than 10% of the time, and this involvement signals the worst prognosis.
Next in severity is Hand-Schuller-Christian disease, a chronic, scattered form of histiocytosis. It occurs most commonly from the age of one to three years and is a slowly progressive disease that affects the softened areas of the skull, other flat bones, the eyes, and skin. Letterer-Siwe disease is the acute form of this series of diseases. It is generally found from the time of birth to one year of age. It causes an enlarged liver, bruising and skin lesions, anemia, enlarged lymph glands, other organ involvement, and extensive skull lesions.

Causes and symptoms

This is a rare disorder affecting approximately 1 in 200,000 children or adults each year. The International Histiocyte Society formed a registry in 2000 that has registered a total of 274 adults from 13 countries as of 2003. Because histiocytic disorders are so rare, little research has been done to determine their cause. Over time, histiocytosis may lessen in its assault on the body but there are still problems from damage to the tissues. There are no apparent inheritance patterns in these diseases with the exception of a form involving the lymphatic system; of the 274 adults in the international registry, only one came from a family with a history of the disease.
The symptoms of histiocytosis are caused by substances called cytokines and prostaglandins, which are normally produced by histiocytes and act as messengers between cells. When these chemicals are produced in excess amounts and in the wrong places, they cause tissue swelling and abnormal growth. Thus, symptoms may include painful lumps in the skull and limbs as well as rashes on the skin. General symptoms may include: poor appetite, failure to gain weight, recurrent fever, and irritability. Symptoms from other possible sites of involvement include:
  • gums: swelling, usually without significant discomfort
  • ear: chronic discharge
  • liver or spleen: abdominal discomfort or swelling
  • pituitary: This gland at the base of the brain is affected at some stage in approximately 20%-30% of children causing a disturbance in water balance to produce thirst and frequent urination.
  • eyes: Due to the bony disease, behind-the-eye bulging may occur (exophthalmos)
  • lungs: breathing problems


The diagnosis can be made only by performing a biopsy, that is, taking a tissue sample under anesthesia from a site in the patient thought to be involved. Blood and urine tests, chest and other x rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography scans (CAT scans) (to check the extent of involvement), and possibly bone marrow or breathing tests may be required to confirm the diagnosis.


Although this disease is not cancer, most patients diagnosed with it are treated in cancer clinics. There are two reasons for this:
  • Historically, cancer specialists treated it before the cause was known.
  • The treatment requires the use of drugs typically required to treat cancer.

Key terms

Anemia — Abnormally low level of red blood cells in the blood.
Biopsy — Surgical removal of tissue for examination.
CT or CAT — Computed tomography, a radiologic imaging that uses computer processing to generate an image of tissue density in slices through the patient's body.
Cytokines — The term used to include all protein messengers that regulate immune responses.
Dendritic — Branched like a tree.
Eosinophils — A leukocyte with coarse, round granules present.
Epidermal — The outermost layer of the skin.
Inflammatory — A localized protective response of the body caused by injury or destruction of tissues.
MRI — Magnetic resonance imaging, a noninvasive nuclear procedure that uses electromagnetic energy to create images of structures inside the body.
Pituitary gland — The master gland located in the middle of the head that controls the endocrine glands and affects most bodily functions.
Prostaglandins — A group of nine naturally occurring chemicals in the body that affect smooth muscles.
Serous — Thin and watery, like serum.
Any cancer drugs utilized are usually given in smaller doses, which diminishes the severity of their side effects. Radiation therapy is rarely used, and special drugs may be prescribed for skin symptoms. If there is only one organ affected, steroids may be injected locally, or a drug called indomethacin may be used. Indomethacin is an anti-inflammatory medication that may achieve a similar response with less severe side effects.


The disease fluctuates markedly. If only one system is involved, the disease often resolves by itself. Multisystem disease usually needs treatment although it may disappear spontaneously. The disease is not normally fatal unless organs vital to life are damaged. In general, the younger the child at diagnosis and the more organs involved, the poorer the outlook. If the condition resolves, there could still be long-term complications because of the damage done while the disease was active.



Beers, Mark H., MD, and Robert Berkow, MD., editors. "Histiocytic Syndromes." Section 11, Chapter 137 In The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories, 2004.
Behrman, Richard E., Robert Kliegman, and Hal B. Jenson, editors. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 2000.


Arico, M., M. Girschikofsky, T. Genereau, et al. "Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis in Adults. Report from the International Registry of the Histiocyte Society." European Journal of Cancer 39 (November 2003): 2341-2348.
Eckhardt, A., and A. Schulze. "Maxillofacial Manifestations of Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis: A Clinical and Therapeutic Analysis of 10 Patients." Oral Oncology 39 (October 2003): 687-694.
Kobyahsi, M., O. Yamamoto, Y. Suenaga, and M. Asahi. "Electron Microscopic Study of Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis." Journal of Dermatology July 27, 2000: 453-7.
Levy, J., T. Monos, J.Kapelushnik, et al. "Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis with Periorbital Cellulitis." American Journal of Ophthalmology 136 (November 2003): 939-942.


Histiocytosis Association of America. 302 North Broadway, Pitman, NJ 08071. (800) 548-2758 (USA and Canada). http://www.histio.org.


"Immunity Disorders." NurseMinerva. June 26, 2001. 〈http://nurseminerva.co.uk/immunity.htm〉.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a condition marked by the abnormal appearance of histiocytes in the blood.
Langerhans cell histiocytosis a generic term that encompasses a group of disorders characterized by proliferation of Langerhans cells, which are specialized cells found in the epidermis that function as part of the immune system. These disorders are believed to arise from disturbances in regulation of the immune system. Children are more often affected than adults, and the bone marrow, endocrine system, and lungs may be involved (the lungs are affected more commonly in adults than in children). Langerhans cell histiocytosis is divided into unifocal and multifocal variants; there is also an acute, disseminated form (letterer-siwe disease). This group of disorders was formerly called histiocytosis X and was classified in three forms: Letterer-Siwe disease, Hand-Schüller-Christian disease, and eosinophilic granuloma. Called also eosinophilic granuloma, eosinophilic granulomatosis, and Langerhans cell granulomatosis.
Langerhans cell histiocytosis, acute disseminated Letterer-Siwe disease.
Langerhans cell histiocytosis, multifocal Langerhans cell histiocytosis occurring as erosive accumulations of proliferating Langerhans cells. It occurs most commonly in the marrow cavities of bones, but may also affect the skin, gingiva, lungs, and stomach. When the triad of involvement of the bones of the skull, exophthalmos, and diabetes insipidus is present, it is referred to as Hand-Schüller-Christian disease.
Langerhans cell histiocytosis, unifocal Langerhans cell histiocytosis occurring as a single osteolytic lesion, usually in a long or flat bone; it may be asymptomatic or may produce bone pain, tenderness, and swelling and, sometimes, pathologic fracture.
histiocytosis X former name for Langerhans cell histiocytosis.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.

Lang·er·hans cell histiocytosis

(lahng'ĕr-hahnz), [MIM*604856]
a set of closely related disorders unified by a common proliferating element, the Langerhans cell. Three overlapping clinical syndromes are recognized: a single site disease (eosinophilic granuloma), a multifocal unisystem process (Hand-Schuller-Christian syndrome), and a multifocal, multisystem histiocytosis (Letter-Siwe syndrome.) Formerly this process was known as histiocytosis X.
Synonym(s): histiocytosis X
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012

Langerhans’ cell histiocytosis

A group of conditions characterised by proliferation of Langerhans cells, which are lymphoreticular cells. Langerhans cell aggregates are nodular, especially in the lungs, and are variably accompanied by eosinophils, foamy cells, neutrophils, and fibrosis.

Good if limited to a single system. Multi-system involvement carries a 10–20% mortality rate due to organ failure; 50–60% have chronic disease; 30–40% have long-term clinical remission.

Langerhans cell histiocytosis types 
Pulmonary LCH
A lesion virtually exclusive to cigarette smokers, which is a form of smoking-related interstitial lung disease. Smoking cessation may lead to reversal of changes or evolution to pulmonary fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension.
Unifocal LCH
Eosinophilic granuloma, solitary bone involvement
A lesion affecting younger patients; may affect any bone, most commonly the cranial vault, jaw, humerus, rib and femur (often spares the hands and feet).

Mimics Ewing sarcoma.
Multifocal unisystem
LCH Hand-Schüller-Christian disease, multiple bone involvement.

Polyostotic eosinophilic granuloma 
A lesion that may affect the skin, accompanied by proptosis, diabetes insipidus, or chronic otitis media or combination thereof, marked by a chronic course with waxing and waning symptoms.

Relatively good.
Multifocal multisystem LCH
Letterer-Siwe disease, multiple organ involvement
A lesion that affects bone, lung and skin; while histologically indistinct, it is more aggressive than the other forms.

Poor if < 18 months at time of diagnosis; haemorrhagic skin lesions; hepatomegaly, anemia; thrombocytopenia; bone marrow involvement.
Segen's Medical Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc. All rights reserved.

histiocytosis X

Langerhans' cell histiocytosis, see there.
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

his·ti·o·cy·to·sis X

Proliferation of Langerhans cells of undetermined clinical type, possibly Hand-Schüller-Christian disease, Letterer-Siwe disease, and eosinophilic granuloma.
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012
References in periodicals archive ?
Surface phenotype of Langerhans cells and lymphocytes in granulomatous lesions from patients with pulmonary histiocytosis X. Am Rev Respir Dis.
Role of granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) in the pathogenesis of adult pulmonary histiocytosis X. Thorax.
(1) Up to 80% of histiocytosis X lesions in children are of solitary EG type and up to 90% occur in children.
Bone lesions in histiocytosis X. J Pediatr Orthop 1991; 11: 469-477.
Clinical diagnosis of histiocytosis X was made and patient was started on chemotherapy: Etoposide + cytoblastin + betamethasone regimen, to which he responded successfully.
DISCUSSION: Histiocytosis X is a clonal proliferation disease of langerhan's cells that express an immunophenotype positive for S100 and CD1a (7) Hand-schuller-christian disease is a well described entity which has appeared sporadically till 1935.the cases have been reported from the western literature but authentic case reports from India are few (8,9).
(2-5) In 1987, the international Histiocyte Society changed the name of the disease from histiocytosis X to Langerhans' cell histiocytosis.
The Langerhans cell histiocytosis X files revealed.
INTRODUCTION: Acute disseminated Langerhans cell disease belongs to a group of diseases once known as Histiocytosis X. The term Histiocytosis X was suggested by Lichtenstein in 1953 which included a spectrum of disorders characterized by proliferation of histiocyte- like cells (1).
In 1987, the Writing Group of the Histiocyte Society introduced the term Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH) to replace the old term histiocytosis X. Both terms lump together various diseases previously called Hand-Schuller-Christian disease, Letterer-Siwe disease, and eosinophilic granuloma of the bone.
Histiocytosis X mimicking recurrent malignant disease: a report of two cases.