Overview of Cutaneous T Cell Lymphoma (CTCL)

Cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL) is a lymphoma of T cell (a type of white blood cell that is responsible for immune function) origin that affects the skin. Its symptoms vary. Often it is confined to the skin and can be treated and often cured. Aggressive forms can extend beyond the skin to the lymph nodes, blood, and internal organs.

Cutaneous T cell lymphoma is frequently referred to as mycosis fungoides. In this chronic disorder, malignant T cells migrate to, and multiply in, the skin. Left untreated, these malignant cells may remain in the skin for years and sometimes for decades. They eventually spread to the lymph nodes, blood, or internal organs. Treatment, especially in early stages, can result in cure.

Cutaneous T Cell Lymphoma Causes

In normal skin reactions, T cells are recruited to the skin to fight off infectious invasion. The T cells divide and expand, and after the foreign stimulus is eliminated, they die off. In CTCL, the malignant T cells cycle and divide without dying off. Thus they remain in the skin and proliferate. The cause for this malignant proliferation is unknown, but certain viruses, like the human T cell lymphoma virus (HTLV), stimulate some variants of CTCL.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Aug 2000

Last Modified: 24 Aug 2015