Overview

Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL) is a rare type of cancer that begins in white blood cells called T cells (T lymphocytes). These cells normally help your body's germ-fighting immune system. In cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, the T cells develop abnormalities that make them attack the skin.

Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma can cause rash-like skin redness, slightly raised or scaly round patches on the skin, and, sometimes, skin tumors.

Several types of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma exist. The most common type is mycosis fungoides. Sezary syndrome is a less common type that causes skin redness over the entire body. Some types of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, such as mycosis fungoides, progress slowly and others are more aggressive.

The type of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma you have helps determine which treatments are best for you. Treatments can include skin creams, light therapy, radiation therapy and systemic medications, such as chemotherapy.

Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma is one of several types of lymphoma collectively called non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma include:

  • Round patches of skin that may be raised or scaly and might be itchy
  • Patches of skin that appear lighter in color than surrounding skin
  • Lumps that form on the skin and may break open
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Hair loss
  • Thickening of the skin on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet
  • A rash-like skin redness over the entire body that is intensely itchy

Causes

The exact cause of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma isn't known.

In general, cancer begins when cells develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. A cell's DNA contains instructions that tell a cell what to do. The DNA mutations tell the cells to grow and multiply rapidly, creating many abnormal cells.

In cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, the mutations cause too many abnormal T cells that attack the skin. T cells are part of your immune system, and they normally help your body fight germs. Doctors don't know why the cells attack the skin.

Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma care at Mayo Clinic

Feb. 09, 2019
References
  1. AskMayoExpert. Mycosis fungoides and Sezary syndrome (adult). Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2018.
  2. Hoffman R, et al. T-cell lymphomas. In: Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2018. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Jan. 11, 2019.
  3. Bolognia JL, et al., eds. Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. In: Dermatology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2018. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Jan. 11, 2019.
  4. Primary cutaneous lymphomas. Plymouth Meeting, Pa.: National Comprehensive Cancer Network. https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/default.aspx. Accessed Jan. 11, 2019.
  5. Warner KJ. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 4, 2018.