Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

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.

What are the symptoms 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 most common symptoms of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma; however, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

 

Stage  Symptoms  

 Stage I

 
  • Dry, red, scaly patches on skin.
  • Lymph nodes are normal.

Stage II

 
  • Dry, red, scaly patches on skin.
  • Lymph nodes are normal or larger than normal, but not cancerous. 
  • Tumors on the skin (called mycosis fungoides).

Stage III

 
  • Most of the skin is dry, red and scaly.
  • Lymph nodes are normal or larger than normal, but not cancerous. 

Stage IV

 
  • Skin is dry, red and scaly.
  • Cancer cells are in the lymph nodes. 
  • Cancer has spread to other organs.

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 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.

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.
  • 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.