The basics of Cutaneous T cell lymphoma: what it is and how it affects people

The basics of Cutaneous T cell lymphoma: what it is and how it affects people

Julie Scott, DNP
Julie Scott, DNP

Cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL) is a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cancer that grows in the lymphatic system. More specifically, CTCL grows in the T cells, a type of white blood cell that helps to fight infection. With CTCL, these T-cells become cancerous and cause the skin to develop lesions. There are multiple types of CTCL, with the most common subtypes being mycosis fungoides and Sezary syndrome.


Symptoms of CTCL can vary for each person but often progress over a span of years. Some common symptoms can include the following:

  • Red rash on an area of the skin
  • Red, scaly patches
  • Elevated red or brown plaques on the skin
  • Severe itching
  • Peeling of the skin
  • Painful lesions
  • Thickening of the skin


The ultimate diagnosis of CTCL will be made once a biopsy is obtained. A biopsy is generally done of a concerning skin lesion, and multiple biopsies may need to be taken to get an accurate diagnosis. Once CTCL is diagnosed, additional testing of chromosomes and other markers are done on the tumor to help determine the cancer’s grade and other characteristics.

Once a CTCL diagnosis is made, imaging studies such as CT scans may be ordered to see if cancer has spread to other body areas, including solid organs. A bone marrow biopsy may also need to be done to see if there is any evidence of lymphoma in the bone marrow.


The exact treatment for mantle cell lymphoma will be determined once the diagnosis is made and the cancer stage is known.

Topical medications may be used to treat the skin in the area of cancer for those with an early stage of CTCL. These can include steroids and chemotherapy medications. Other local treatments can include radiation therapy, where high energy x rays target skin lesions and kill cancer cells. Phototherapy, with unique light treatments, can be used as well.

If CTCL is spread throughout the body, systemic treatments such as chemotherapy may be needed. In some cases, a stem cell transplant may be recommended.

If you’ve been diagnosed with cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, be sure to talk to your cancer team about the specifics of your cancer. They can help you understand your diagnosis and how best to treat it.

While Cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL) is not well known, it is essential to be aware of the signs and symptoms as it can be a serious condition. While there is no cure for CTCL, treatment options are available, and patients can often lead normal lives with proper management.

For more information about CTCL, visit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s website at

Julie Scott, DNP
Julie Scott, DNP
Julie is an oncology certified Oncology Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of medical oncology experience. In addition to her clinical work, she is an accomplished healthcare writer providing oncology content for various publications. She also serves as an adjunct faculty member for a Master's nursing program and a chair for Doctoral nursing students.

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