Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma (CTCL)

What is Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma?

Cutaneous t-cell lymphoma (CTCL) is a rare disorder characterized by excessive growth of white blood cells called T cells within the skin. Early stages of the condition can be mistaken for other common skin afflictions like psoriasis and eczema, so tests are often needed to distinguish them. Diagnosing CTCL can be tricky, and multiple biopsies may be required over a period of time. The disease is more common in older adults between the ages of 40 and 60, and it appears twice as often in men.

Causes for CTCL are unknown. With so few occurrences – only about four out of every million people – there has not been much available for medical researchers to study. Around half of CTCL diagnoses are of the very slow growing variety, while about 5% are considered high grade, or fast growing. The condition is classified into four stages, which are further broken down into subgroups. The least severe stage presents as intermittent patches, while the most advanced cases find the cancerous T cells spreading to other organs.

What are the Symptoms of Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma?

Symptoms vary from case to case depending on stage.

Symptoms include

  • Red rashes
  • Dry skin
  • Itching that may be severe
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Skin lesions
  • Thickening, peeling, or scaly skin
  • Plaques on the skin
  • Complications of the spleen, liver, or gastrointestinal system

Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma Causes

Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma begins in the body when there is an abnormal rate of growth within the lymphatic system. When this occurs, there are several different types of cutaneous t-cell lymphomas that may develop. The most common types are mycosis fungoides and Sezary syndrome.

Doctors and medical scientists are still unsure as to what causes the T-cells in the lymphatic system to begin growing at an abnormal rate. However, there is a great deal of research into possible causes of this type of cancer.

Many researchers are leaning to a genetic cause of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. Other researchers are leaning toward the idea that some type of immunological reaction with the body begins the process of abnormal cell growth.

There is ongoing investigation into the idea that some types of viral and bacterial infections may act as the trigger for this cancer. In addition, environmental factors may be at play.

Since the main manifestation of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma is in and on the skin, researchers believe that long-term exposure to UV radiation may play a role in cancer development.

How is Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma Treated?

If discovered early, CTCL can usually be well controlled in the long term to prevent it from reaching an advanced stage. Treatment does depend, however, on how far the disease has progressed when diagnosed.

Many early-stage cases will not require treatment until a later time, and a doctor will recommend simply keeping an eye on it for any changes. Some patients benefit from topical creams, UVA or UVB light exposure, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or bone marrow or stem cell transplants. Other possible treatments include total skin electron beam therapy, retinoids, biological therapy, and photodynamic therapy.

Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma Prevention

There is no known way to absolutely prevent cutaneous T-cell lymphoma as the cause is so uncertain. However, there are some generally accepted guidelines in place to help prevent cancers.

Doctors advise that a person never smoke or use any tobacco products. Also, drinking of alcoholic beverages should be kept to a minimum.

In the area of diet, doctors recommend eating several servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Red meat and processed meats should be consumed in moderation. Keeping one’s weight at a healthy level is also important.

Since cutaneous T-cell lymphoma is mainly seen on the skin, using a good quality sunblock when going out in the sun is important for possible prevention of this cancer and a whole range of other types of skin cancer.