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Identifying and Understanding Mycosis Fungoides Symptoms

A diagnosis of cutaneous T-cell non-Hodgkins lymphoma may come as quite a surprise to the patient who comes in to see his or her doctor about a red, itchy rash, or something that appears to be a fungal infection. Mycosis fungoides symptoms can be difficult to diagnose without repeated biopsies and testing; in some cases it may be several years before the disease is properly identified.

Reddish Patches

One of the first symptoms of the disease is the appearance of itchy reddish patches on the skin. These most commonly appear on the breasts/chest, buttocks, hips, under the armpits, and around the groin area. In pale-skinned individuals these patches will be red and somewhat inflamed, but on darker skin the patches may appear very light or very dark instead. The patches are generally extremely itchy; for this reason the disease is often misdiagnosed as eczema or psoriasis. However, in some cases the itching (pruritis) may not be present.

Skin Plaques

Skin plaques may appear shortly after or in conjunction with symptoms of red and patchy skin. They are raised and hard, and generally have an oval or circular shape. Most skin plaques will display pruritis, or itchiness. Skin plaques can become skin lesions over time; these lesions have a raw, open surface similar to ulcers, and can be quite painful. Topical treatments for the condition may eventually lessen the discomfort caused by these lesions, but because they are a manifestation of the cancer it is difficult to relieve the pain by ordinary means.

Enlarged Lymph Nodes

As with other types of lymphomas, mycosis fungoides and cutaneous T-cell non-Hodgkins lymphomas involve the lymphocytes of the lymphatic system, and these cancers will eventually affect the body’s lymph nodes. In advanced stages the malignant lymphocytes may attach and grow on the lymph nodes, causing them to become cancerous. However, even in earlier stages the lymph nodes will be swollen and inflamed, as the body attempts to fight off the invasion of cancerous cells.

Thickened Skin and Tumors

In advanced cases of this disease, tumors of the skin are common, and can have a fungal or mushroom-like appearance. Large areas of the neck, chest, back, groin, and buttocks may also become red, inflamed, and thickened as the disease progresses. This stage may also cause changes in the appearance of the eyelids, nails, and hair. When this condition affects the skin of the entire body, it is referred to as Sézary syndrome. The outlook for patients with Sézary syndrome tends to be poorer than it is for those with other manifestations of the disease.


In advanced stages of the disease, malignant cancerous cells will spread to other parts of the body, including the bone marrow, lymph nodes, and major organs. The growth of cancerous tumors in non-cutaneous areas of the body is a sign that the disease has become systemic, and is no longer limited to external, visible symptoms. At this stage, medical tests will be necessary to detect additional internal symptoms, as malignant lymphocytes present within the blood may infect any part of the body.

Because initial mycosis fungoides symptoms resemble those of other, non-cancerous skin conditions, many medical practitioners may not suspect the presence of cutaneous non-Hodgkins lymphoma until initial treatment methods have failed. If you or a family member displays any of the symptoms above, make an appointment to discuss them with a doctor immediately.