Although cutaneous lymphomas are a serious, life threatening condition, the diagnosis is not a death sentence; approximately 40% of people with mycosis fungoides will go on to live with the disease for many years. However, it is difficult to remove entirely, and remission is less common than with other types of cancer. Most care is considered palliative, and is designed to slow rather than completely eliminate the disease.
The Good News
Mycosis fungoides is considered to be the most benign of cutaneous T-cell lymphomas, and 40-100% of all patients survive for at least 10 years after the original diagnoses. In addition, patients diagnosed in stage IA, which is considered premycotic, have a normal life expectancy. In these cases the disease may be completely curable, with no recurrence or systemic progression. Even in incurable cases, many patients can expect a slow progression of the disease; there are also a variety of treatments that can impede the spread of malignant cells, containing the cancer for quite some time.
The Not-So-Good News
Medical professionals generally agree that mycosis fungoides is incurable once it progresses beyond stage IA. Since most cases are not even identified properly until after this stage, it is likely that most patients diagnosed with this cancer will be living with it for the rest of their lives. Advanced stages are associated with immunosuppression, and most people who have this form of lymphoma actually die of secondary cancers or other types of infections. The life expectancy of those diagnosed depends upon the stage of the disease and the treatments available.
As mentioned above, most treatment options are designed to slow the cancerís progression, and cannot be expected to eliminate it entirely. These types of treatments are called palliative treatments, and are designed to extend and improve the quality of a patientís life. The main categories of treatment involve topical or systemic chemotherapy, electron beam therapy, ultraviolet light or PUVA therapy, topical steroids, and immuno-stimulant therapies utilizing agents like alpha interferon. Treatments should be chosen based on the stage of the disease, and several may be used in conjunction with one another.
Averages and Statistics
The mycosis fungides prognosis for those diagnosed is generally positive when compared to other more aggressive forms of lymphoma. Patients diagnosed with mycosis fungoides in stage IA, sometimes termed the premycotic stage, have a normal life expectancy, but statistics decline from there. The median survival rates for patients with more advanced stages of the disease are as follows: IB or IIA (extensive patches and plaques), 11 years; IIB (cutaneous tumors), 3.2 years; III (erythroderma or overall reddening of the skin), 4.6 years; IVA (cancerous lymph nodes), 1.2 years; IVB (systemic metastasization), 0.9 years.
With proper treatment, most patients live at least 10 years after they are diagnosed with mycosis fungoides, and some live as long as 20. However, the cancer is not curable once it progresses past the first stage, and patients should not indulge in false hope of remission. With proper management and care, this type of cutaneous lymphoma can progress very slowly.