What is Cutaneous T Cell Lymphoma?

Page content

Overview of CTCL

Cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL) is a type of the Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) that develop in the skin. NHL is a cancer or malignancy affecting the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is part of the immune system of the body that helps in fighting off various infections. It is made up of various organs like the bone marrow, spleen, thymus and lymph nodes connected to a network of lymphatic vessels having lymph fluid circulating inside it. Lymphatic tissues may also be found in the lungs, stomach and other organs. CTCL is quire rare, occurring in less than 5% of non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases. This condition is described as a cancer of the T-cells and usually affects people aged 40 to 60 years old.


Two common types are Sezary syndrome and mycosis fungoides. The mycosis fungoides is a generic term for other types of CTCL that occurs when the blood is not infected. Sezary syndrome, on the other hand, is a specific type wherein large parts of the lymph glands and skin are affected by abnormal T-cells.

Cause and Diagnosis

The causes of the condition are still being researched. Like other types of cancer, CTCL is not infectious and thus cannot be passed from one person to another. Diagnosis of the condition is made through biopsy, or removing a small part of the infected skin and examining it under a microscope.


There are different stages of CTCL which can indicate the extent of the disease. However, the disease does not necessarily develop through all of the these stages.

The pre-tumor stage is characterized by the presence of small and red patches appearing on the skin particularly on the buttocks and breast although these patches can also appear in other areas. At this stage the CTCL appears to be a common skin condition like eczema.

The infiltrative stage is when irregularly shaped patches form in any part of the body, particularly on the buttocks, face and skin folds. There can also be permanent loss of hair in the affected areas.

The tumor stage is characterized by raise lumps on the skin, which would then develop into deep sores. CTCL may also spread in other internal organs like the lungs, liver and spleen.


When 10% or less of the skin is affected by the disease, there is usually a good chance of response to treatment. If more than 10% of the skin is already affected, and spread have occurred in other parts of the body as well, the disease may only be controlled with long term treatment.

There are numerous treatment options for CTCL. One is the photochemotherapy treatment suited for large affected skin areas. This treatment option is usually done in multiple sessions.

Another option is ultraviolet light B (UVB) therapy which stops the growth of the skin cells. Radiotherapy as well as chemotherapy may also be utilized in treating Cutaneous T cell lymphoma or CTCL.


CancerHelp UK: Cutaneous T Cell Lymphoma

macmillan.org.uk: Cutaneous T Cell Lymphoma (CTCL)