Select language:  
1800 620 420
Close menu

Adult T-cell lymphoma

What is adult T-cell lymphoma (ATLL)?

Adult T-cell leukaemia/lymphoma (ATLL) is a potentially aggressive type of mature T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It is linked to the viral infection, HTLV-1 (human T-cell lymphotropic virus 1).

ATLL cancerous T-cells are found in the peripheral circulating blood (leukaemia), in the lymph nodes (lymphoma), or in both. There are four subtypes of ATLL: acute; lymphomatous; chronic; and smouldering. Adult T-cell lymphoma (ATLL) is rare in countries such as Australia and North America. It is more prevalent in countries where infection with HTLV-1 is common, such as Japan, China, the Caribbean, South and Central America and West Africa.

How does adult T-cell lymphoma affect the body?

Symptoms of ATLL will vary, depending on the subtype. In acute ATLL, symptoms develop rapidly and include fatigue, skin rash and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, armpit and groin. A high calcium level in the blood (hypercalcaemia) may also be present which can cause confusion, bone pain and severe constipation. The lymphomatous form of ATLL presents with enlarged lymph nodes. Chronic ATLL is slow growing and frequently characterised by enlarged lymph nodes that can be found anywhere in the body. Skin rash and fatigue are also common symptoms in this form of ATLL. Smouldering ATLL develops slowly and presents with very mild symptoms such as a few lesions on the skin. Patients with the chronic or smouldering types of ATLL can progress to the acute form in about 25% of cases.

Who does adult T-cell lymphoma commonly affect?

ATLL occurs in 2%-5% of people who are infected with the HTLV-1 virus. Currently, doctors are unable to determine which of those people infected with HTLV-1 will develop ATLL. It is slightly more common in men than in women, and can occur from young adulthood to old age.

Do we know what causes adult T-cell lymphoma?

The HTLV-1 virus is a retrovirus, and is in the same class of virus as the HIV/AIDS virus. It is believed that the HTLV-1 virus is a key factor in the development of this rare lymphoma which is transmitted through sexual contact, exposure to contaminated blood or breastfeeding.

How is adult T-cell lymphoma treated?

Treatment for ATLL depends on the subtype. It can range from monitoring without treatment in the smouldering type, to a combination of therapies for the acute and lymphomatous types. Therapies include antiviral drugs or cytokines, together with one of several chemotherapy protocols. Some patients may undergo a bone marrow transplant if they go into remission from their initial treatment.

Relapsed ATLL is usually treated with chemotherapy protocols. The protocol used will be determined by your particular situation and careful consideration by your doctor.

Would you like more help?

Visit our online support service for blood cancer patients

Would you like to talk to someone?

Fill out this form to speak with a Blood Cancer Support Coordinator

Last updated on May 22nd, 2024

Developed by the Leukaemia Foundation in consultation with people living with a blood cancer, Leukaemia Foundation support staff, haematology nursing staff and/or Australian clinical haematologists. This content is provided for information purposes only and we urge you to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis, treatment and answers to your medical questions, including the suitability of a particular therapy, service, product or treatment in your circumstances. The Leukaemia Foundation shall not bear any liability for any person relying on the materials contained on this website.