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The following question was answered by Stuart R. Lessin, M.D. Director of Dermatology, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, PA

CTCL: Is it a skin cancer?
Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL) is sometimes referred to as a skin cancer because it is a cancer that affects the skin, but it is not a precise use of the term “skin cancer.”

CTCL is a lymphoma, or cancer of lymphocytes, the white blood cells that normally fight infections and are involved with immune functions of the body. Lymphocytes are housed in the lymph nodes and circulate throughout our body, including the skin. Most lymphomas are systemic and result in cancerous growth of the body’s lymph nodes. In CTCL, the cancerous lymphocytes grow in the skin.

Skin cancer is a term that describes cancer that develops from the cells that occupy the skin. These include epidermal cells and melanocytes (pigment cells). Epidermal cells can transform into squamous cell carcinoma or basal cell carcinoma. Melanocytes can transform into malignant melanoma. Thus, squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma are all defined as skin cancers.