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Home > Wellness Resources > Health Library > Mycosis Fungoides and the Sézary Syndrome Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI]
This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http://cancer.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.
Mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome are diseases in which lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) become malignant (cancerous) and affect the skin.
Normally, the bone marrow makes blood stem cells (immature cells) that become mature blood stem cells over time. A blood stem cell may become a myeloid stem cell or a lymphoid stem cell. A myeloid stem cell becomes a red blood cell, white blood cell, or platelet. A lymphoid stem cell becomes a lymphoblast and then one of three types of lymphocytes (white blood cells):
Blood cell development. A blood stem cell goes through several steps to become a red blood cell, platelet, or white blood cell.
In mycosis fungoides, T-cell lymphocytes become cancerous and affect the skin. In the Sézary syndrome, cancerous T-cell lymphocytes affect the skin and are in the blood.
Mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome are types of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.
Mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome are the two most common types of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma). For information about other types of skin cancer or non-Hodgkin lymphoma, see the following PDQ summaries:
A possible sign of mycosis fungoides is a red rash on the skin.
Mycosis fungoides may go through the following phases:
Check with your doctor if you have any of these signs.
In the Sézary syndrome, cancerous T-cells are found in the blood.
Also, skin all over the body is reddened, itchy, peeling, and painful. There may also be patches, plaques, or tumors on the skin. It is not known if the Sézary syndrome is an advanced form of mycosis fungoides or a separate disease.
Tests that examine the skin and blood are used to detect (find) and diagnose mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:
Mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome are hard to cure. Treatment is usually palliative, to relieve symptoms and improve the quality of life. Patients with early stage disease may live many years.
After mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome have been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread from the skin to other parts of the body.
The process used to find out if cancer has spread from the skin to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment.
The following procedures may be used in the staging process:
There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:
Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.
When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.
The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if mycosis fungoides spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are actually mycosis fungoides cells. The disease is metastatic mycosis fungoides, not liver cancer.
The following stages are used for mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome:
Stage I Mycosis Fungoides
Stage I is divided into stage IA and stage IB as follows:
There may be abnormal lymphocytes in the blood but they are not cancerous.
Stage II Mycosis Fungoides
Stage II is divided into stage IIA and stage IIB as follows:
Stage III Mycosis Fungoides
In stage III, nearly all of the skin is reddened and may have patches, papules, plaques, or tumors. Lymph nodes may be enlarged but cancer has not spread to them.
Stage IV Mycosis Fungoides
Stage IV is divided into stage IVA and stage IVB as follows:
Stage IV Sézary Syndrome
In stage IV:
Recurrent mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome are cancers that have recurred (come back) after they have been treated. The cancer may come back in the skin or in other parts of the body.
There are different types of treatment for patients with mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome cancer.
Different types of treatment are available for patients with mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Six types of standard treatment are used:
Photodynamic therapy is a cancer treatment that uses a drug and a certain type of laser light to kill cancer cells. A drug that is not active until it is exposed to light is injected into a vein. The drug collects more in cancer cells than in normal cells. For skin cancer, laser light is shined onto the skin and the drug becomes active and kills the cancer cells. Photodynamic therapy causes little damage to healthy tissue. Patients undergoing photodynamic therapy will need to limit the amount of time spent in sunlight.
In one type of photodynamic therapy, called psoralen and ultraviolet A (PUVA) therapy, the patient receives a drug called psoralen and then ultraviolet radiation is directed to the skin. In another type of photodynamic therapy, called extracorporeal photochemotherapy, the patient is given drugs and then some blood cells are taken from the body, put under a special ultraviolet A light, and put back into the body.
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer.
Sometimes, total skin electron beam (TSEB) radiation therapy is used to treat mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome. This is a type of radiation treatment in which the skin over the whole body is treated with rays of tiny particles called electrons.
The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). Sometimes the chemotherapy is topical (put on the skin in a cream, lotion, or ointment). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
See Drugs Approved for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma for more information. (Mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome are types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.)
Other drug therapy
Topical corticosteroids are used to relieve red, swollen, and inflamed skin. They are a type of steroid. Topical corticosteroids may be in a cream, lotion, or ointment.
Retinoids, such as bexarotene, are drugs related to vitamin A that can slow the growth of certain types of cancer cells. The retinoids may be taken by mouth or put on the skin.
Biologic therapy is a treatment that uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy or immunotherapy.
Interferon is a type of biologic therapy used to treat mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome. It interferes with the division of cancer cells and can slow tumor growth.
Targeted therapy is a treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells. Monoclonal antibody therapy and other types of targeted therapies are used to treat mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome.
Alemtuzumab and denileukin diftitox are monoclonal antibodies used to treat mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome. Monoclonal antibody therapy uses antibodies made in the laboratory, from a single type of immune system cell. These antibodies can identify substances on cancer cells or normal substances that may help cancer cells grow. The antibodies attach to the substances and kill the cancer cells, block their growth, or keep them from spreading. Monoclonal antibodies are given by infusion. They may be used alone or to carry drugs, toxins, or radioactive material directly to cancer cells.
Vorinostat and romidepsin are two of the histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors used to treat mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome. HDAC inhibitors cause a chemical change that stops tumor cells from dividing.
Pralatrexate is a dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) inhibitor used to treat mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome. It builds up in cancer cells and stops them from using folate, a nutrient needed for cells to divide. Pralatrexate may slow the growth of tumors and kill cancer cells.
New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Ultraviolet B radiation therapy
Ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation therapy uses a special lamp or laser that directs UVB radiation at the skin.
High-dose chemotherapy and radiation therapy with stem cell transplant
This treatment is a method of giving high doses of chemotherapy and radiation therapy and replacing blood-forming cells destroyed by the cancer treatment. Stem cells (immature blood cells) are removed from the bone marrow or blood of the patient or a donor and are frozen and stored. After therapy is completed, the stored stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient through an infusion. These reinfused stem cells grow into (and restore) the body's blood cells.
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.
Follow-up tests may be needed.
Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. This is sometimes called re-staging.
Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.
Treatment of stage I mycosis fungoides may include the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage I mycosis fungoides/Sezary syndrome. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Treatment of stage II mycosis fungoides is palliative (to relieve symptoms and improve the quality of life) and may include the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage II mycosis fungoides/Sezary syndrome. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Treatment of stage III mycosis fungoides is palliative (to relieve symptoms and improve the quality of life) and may include the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage III mycosis fungoides/Sezary syndrome. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Stage IV Mycosis Fungoides and the Sézary Syndrome
Treatment of stage IV mycosis fungoides and stage IV Sézary syndrome is palliative (to relieve symptoms and improve the quality of life) and may include the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage IV mycosis fungoides/Sezary syndrome. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Treatment of recurrent mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome is usually within a clinical trial and may include the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent mycosis fungoides/Sezary syndrome. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about mycosis fungoides and the Sézary syndrome, see the following:
For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:
The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.
Changes were made to this summary to match those made to the health professional version.
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Last Revised: 2014-04-23
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