How is adult cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL) characterized?

Updated: Apr 20, 2020
  • Author: Lauren C Pinter-Brown, MD; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
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Most patients with adult T-cell lymphoma/leukemia are those with antibodies to HTLV-1, a retrovirus endemic to southwest Japan, South America, central Africa, and the Caribbean. Adult T-cell lymphoma/leukemia develops in 1-5% of seropositive individuals, often 20 years after exposure.

In the acute form, cutaneous lesions, hepatosplenomegaly, lytic bone lesions, and infections are observed, along with an elevated white blood cell (WBC) count and hypercalcemia. In the chronic and smoldering forms, the skin rash is characterized by papules, nodules, plaques, or erythroderma with pruritus, which can resemble mycosis fungoides histologically and clinically.

Cells with hyperlobate nuclei (in a clover-leaf pattern) infiltrate the dermis and subcutis. Epidermotropism with Pautrier microabscesses can be seen in one third of cases.

Immunologically, the malignant cells are positive for CD2, CD3, and CD5 but negative for CD7; CD4 and CD25 are positive. The T-cell gene rearrangement is clonal, and the HTLV-1 genome is integrated into the neoplastic cells' genome.

Standard treatment with chemotherapy does not appear to affect survival. The use of zidovudine and interferon has been advocated.

The prognosis in patients with adult T-cell lymphoma/leukemia is poor, with a 6-month median survival for the acute form and a 24-month median survival for the chronic form.

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