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Sunday, October 26, 2008

What is cutaneous T-cell lymphoma?

What is cutaneous T-cell lymphoma?

Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma is a disease in which certain cells of the lymph system (called T-lymphocytes) become cancer (malignant) and affect the skin. Lymphocytes are infection-fighting white blood cells that are made in the bone marrow and by other organs of the lymph system. T-cells are special lymphocytes that help the body's immune system kill bacteria and other harmful things in the body.

The lymph system is part of the immune system and is made up of thin tubes that branch, like blood vessels, into all parts of the body, including the skin. Lymph vessels carry lymph, a colorless, watery fluid that contains lymphocytes. Along the network of vessels are groups of small, bean-shaped organs called lymph nodes. Clusters of lymph nodes are found in the underarm, pelvis, neck, and abdomen. The spleen (an organ in the upper abdomen that makes lymphocytes and filters old blood cells from the blood), the thymus (a small organ beneath the breastbone), and the tonsils (an organ in the throat) are also part of the lymph system.

There are several types of lymphoma. The most common types of lymphoma are called Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. These types of lymphoma usually start in the lymph nodes and the spleen. See the patient information summaries on adult or childhood non-Hodgkin's lymphoma or adult or childhood Hodgkin's disease for treatment of these cancers.

Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma usually develops slowly over many years. In the early stages, the skin may itch, and dry, dark patches may develop on the skin. As the disease gets worse, tumors may form on the skin, a condition called mycosis fungoides. As more and more of the skin becomes involved, the skin may become infected. The disease can spread to lymph nodes or to other organs in the body, such as the spleen, lungs, or liver. When large numbers of the tumor cells are found in the blood, the condition is called the Sezary syndrome.

If there are symptoms of cutaneous lymphoma, a doctor may remove a growth from the skin and look at it under a microscope. This is called a biopsy.

The chance of recovery (prognosis) and choice of treatment depend on the stage of the cancer (whether it is just in the skin or has spread to other places in the body) and the patient's general state of health.

There are several other types of cancer that start in the skin. The most common are basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer, which are covered in the PDQ patient information summary on skin cancer. Another type of skin cancer called melanoma is covered in the patient information summary on melanoma. Kaposi's sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that occurs most commonly in patients with the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), also affects the skin. See the PDQ patient information summary on Kaposi's sarcoma for treatment of this cancer. Cancers that start in other parts of the body may also spread (metastasize) to the skin.

Stages of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma

Once cutaneous T-cell lymphoma is found, more tests will be done to find out if cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body. This is called staging. A doctor needs to know the stage of the disease to plan treatment.

The following stages are used for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma:

Stage I

The cancer only affects parts of the skin, which has red, dry, scaly patches, but no tumors. The lymph nodes are not larger than normal.

Stage II

Either of the following may be true: The skin has red, dry, scaly patches, but no tumors. Lymph nodes are larger than normal, but do not contain cancer cells. There are tumors on the skin. The lymph nodes are either normal or are larger than normal, but do not contain cancer cells.

Stage III

Nearly all of the skin is red, dry, and scaly. The lymph nodes are either normal or are larger than normal, but do not contain cancer cells.

Stage IV

The skin is involved, in addition to either of the following:

Cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes.

Cancer has spread to other organs, such as the liver or lung.


Recurrent disease means that the cancer has come back after it has been treated. It may come back where it started or in another part of the body

From: National Cancer Institute - PDQ

For the complete article, including treatment information, please see the link below.

National Cancer Institute