Health Information

Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma

What is cutaneous T-cell lymphoma?

Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma is a disease caused when T-lymphocytes become malignant and affect the skin. T-lymphocytes are the infection-fighting white blood cells in the lymph system that kill harmful bacteria in the body, among other things. Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma usually is a slow-growing cancer that often develops over many years. The two most common types of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma are mycosis fungoides and the Sezary syndrome.

What are the stages of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma?

Symptoms of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma depend on the stage of the cancer (how far it has spread). The following are the stages of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma:

StageSymptoms
Stage I
  • Dry, red, scaly patches or bumps on skin, but no tumors
  • Lymph nodes are normal
Stage II
  • Dry, red, scaly patches or bumps on skin, but no tumors. Lymph nodes are enlarged but do not contain cancer cells.

OR

  • At least one tumor on skin. Lymph nodes are normal or larger than normal but do not contain cancer cells
Stage III
  • Most of the skin is dry, red, scaly, or bumpy and may have tumors
  • Lymph nodes are normal or larger than normal, but do not contain cancer cells
Stage IV
  • Skin is dry, red, scaly, or bumpy and may have tumors
  • Cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and/or to other organs, such as the liver or spleen

The symptoms of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma may resemble other dermatological conditions. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How is cutaneous T-cell lymphoma diagnosed?

In addition to a medical history and physical examination, a physician may order a biopsy of a skin tumor or lymph node to confirm the diagnosis. A biopsy is a procedure in which tissue samples are removed (with a needle or during surgery) from the body for examination under a microscope; to determine if cancer or other abnormal cells are present. The bone marrow and the blood may also be sampled to look for lymphoma cells to help determine the stage of the disease.

Treatment for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma:

Specific treatment for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • Extent of the disease
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, and therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Chemotherapy - treatment with drugs to destroy cancer cells.
  • Other drug therapies (retinoids, targeted drugs)
  • Radiation therapy - uses a radiation machine that emits x-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
  • Photodynamic therapy - uses a certain type of light and a special chemical to kill cancer cells.

Clinical trials are currently being conducted using biological therapy, also called biological response modifier (BRM) therapy, or immunotherapy. Biological therapy tries to get your own body to fight cancer by using materials made by your own body, or made in a laboratory, to boost, direct, or restore your body's natural defenses against disease.

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