T Cell Lymphoma: Causes, Classification, and Diagnosis

In T cell lymphoma, T lymphocytes, which are an essential part of the body's immune response, become malignant. T cell lymphomas account for about 15% of non-Hodgkin lymphomas in the US; they are more common in Asia.

Classification of T Cell Lymphoma

T cell lymphoma can be classified into various subtypes depending upon the shape size and other cellular characteristics of the tumors. Classification of these tumors is also complicated with most tumors being different from the others. In general, T cell lymphomas can be divided into several categories:


Lymphomas can arise from the lymph nodes situated all over the body and are named according to the tissue of origin. Therefore, an evaluation of cell types present in biopsy tissue samples is the only definitive tool to identify a T cell lymphoma as opposed to another type of lymphoma such as a B-cell lymphoma.


The exact cause of most T cell lymphomas is unknown. However, it is likely that genetic changes that take place during antigen processing and presentation result in an aggressively dividing cell population that may give rise to T cell lymphoma.

Adult T cell lymphoma/leukemia

A definitive infective agent, a virus named as HTLV-1 has been shown to cause Adult T cell leukemia/lymphoma.

Adult T cell lymphomas are caused by the virus Human Lymphotropic Virus-1 (HTLV-1). This is an aggressive lymphoma with four subtypes:

  • Acute
  • Lymphocytic
  • Chronic
  • Smouldering

The first two forms are quite aggressive. Chronic and smouldering adult T cell leukemias are slow growing. Although the HTLV-1 virus is present in some ethnic populations like Japan, South America and Caribbean people, only 2-5 percent of the total number of infected people develop the disease.


T cell lymphoma treatment involves a combination of chemotherapy regimens. A few commonly used therapy regimens are:

  • CHOP: This regime comprises of cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine and prednisone.
  • EPOCH: This strategy includes etoposide, doxorubicin, vincristine, cyclophosphamide and prednisone
  • ICE: This regime includes ifosfamide, carboplatin and etoposide
  • GND: Gemcitabine in combination with vinorelbine and doxorubicin are administered in this regime. This drug combination is seen to be very effective in patients suffering from a relapse after having undergone treatment with the CHOP or EPOCH regimens.
  • Cancer Patients have more options through clinical studies. Follow this link to learn more and find a clinical study opportunity near you.

The choice of therapeutic agents should be made in consultation with your oncologist considering other risk factors (eg. Age, health, aggressive or indolent tumor etc.).

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