Subcutaneous T-cell lymphoma is a form of cancer that mainly affects young adults. The condition is a form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, cancer that develops out of the body's white blood cells. As its name indicates, subcutaneous T-cell lymphoma affects T-cells along with another type of white blood cell known as natural killer (NK) cells. Symptoms appear on the skin as large red patches. Treatment options and prognosis depend on the progression of the disease.
There are more than 40 types of lymphomas, or cancers of the body's white blood cells. Hodgkin's lymphoma was first described in the mid 19th-century. As scientists discovered the other lymphomas, they were classified as non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. In the 21st century, though, this classification system is largely impractical, as every lymphoma has its own unique set of symptoms, treatment options and prognosis. Subcutaneous T-cell lymphoma, one of a handful of lymphomas that affect T-cells and natural killer cells, is no different.
Subcutaneous T-cell lymphoma occurs when mutated T-cells and natural killer cells begin to multiply rapidly. These cells congregate together below the skin, causing an area of discoloration that can be as large as a fist. One or more of these areas appear before clearing up; they can repeat this cycle many times, usually covering more of the skin in each cycle. Slightly red and in some cases painful, a patient can have no other symptoms. For this reason, most patients do not seek medical attention, and the cancer is allowed to progress until the disease is diagnosed during a checkup.
Diagnosing subcutaneous T-cell lymphoma involves visual inspection of the nodules and staining of cells taken through a biopsy. Physicians determine the stage of the cancer by measuring how much of the skin is affected by the lymphoma. Patients with discoloration covering half or more of their bodies generally experience the secondary symptoms associated with a weakened immune system: fatigue, weight loss and fever. After diagnosis, a physician will discuss treatment options with his or her patient.
Treatment of subcutaneous T-cell lymphoma involves chemotherapy. Radiation therapy is not an option, as the lymphoma has no large tumors to target. Fortunately for patients, the lymphoma is not as aggressive as other examples of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A patent whose cancer goes into remission has an 80% chance at a five-year survival. After remission, a patient should expect close monitoring by a physician for many years in order to guard against the cancer reappearing.