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What to Know About T-Cell Lymphomas

These types of lymphomas begin in the T cells of the lymphatic system. T-cell lymphomas make up almost 15 percent of all non-Hodgkin lymphomas in the U.S. T cells or T lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that attacks viruses, foreign cells, and cancer cells. T cells also produce a number of substances that regulate the immune response. By looking at the proteins on the surface of cells, a pathologist can tell which type you have. This information helps guide your treatment plan:

  • Angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma. This type tends to occur in the lymph nodes. It causes infections, fever, weight loss, and skin rashes. It is not clear that this lymphoma is curable, and some patients may require a stem cell transplant.

  • Extranodal natural killer/T-cell lymphoma, nasal type. As its name implies, this type often involves the upper airway passages, such as the nose and upper throat. It can also invade the skin and digestive tract. A person of any age can develop this type of lymphoma. If localized to the nasal passages, it can often be cured by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. If it is widespread, cure is less likely.

  • Enteropathy-type T-cell lymphoma. This type occurs in people with sensitivity to gluten, the main protein in wheat flour. Gluten-sensitive enteropathy is a disease that can progress to this type of lymphoma. It typically invades the walls of the intestines. Once that occurs, the outlook for recovery is unlikely.

  • Subcutaneous panniculitis-like T-cell lymphoma. This lymphoma causes nodules to form in the deepest layers of the skin. It starts out as slow-growing. It can be treated with radiation and, sometimes, chemotherapy.

  • Anaplastic large T/null-cell lymphoma. About 1 to 2 percent of lymphomas are this kind. It is a fast-growing type that often occurs in children. Starting in the lymph nodes, it can also spread to the skin. Treatment with chemotherapy often works well.

  • Peripheral T-cell lymphoma, unspecified. This term is used to describe T-cell lymphomas that don't fit in other categories. Most people with this type of lymphoma are in their 60s. It tends to grow quickly and be widespread.

  • Precursor T-lymphoblastic lymphoma/leukemia. This disease is classified as lymphoma or leukemia, depending on how much the bone marrow is involved. (Leukemias have more bone marrow involvement.) About 1 percent of all lymphomas fall into this category. It often starts in the thymus, which is in the front part of the chest. People with this type are most often young men. Although the lymphoma is fast-growing, the chance for a cure with chemotherapy is good if it hasn’t spread to the bone marrow when first diagnosed.

  • Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (mycosis fungoides, Sezary syndrome). This is a T-cell lymphoma that begins in the skin, accounting for about 5 percent of all lymphomas. It begins as patchy, red lesions. It can progress to more solid, raised tumors that can invade lymph nodes and organs, including the liver and spleen. With Sezary syndrome, the lymphoma cells are found in the blood. The prognosis is better if the lymphoma hasn’t spread.


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