UVB light as a treatment for cutaneous lymphoma

Narrowband UVB light can reduce skin inflammation and is used as a cutaneous T-cell lymphoma treatment.

Ultraviolet light, specifically, narrowband UVB light, can reduce skin inflammation, especially as a treatment for eczema and psoriasis. A Louisville-area dermatologist is using this therapy as a treatment for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, a blood cell cancer that involves the skin.

Depending on how much the cutaneous T-cell lymphoma has spread, the thickness of the lesions and the patient’s baseline skin color, narrowband UVB light and similar treatments have been shown to be as much as 90% effective. Remissions have lasted as long as a year after light treatment.

Norton Cancer Institute has developed a multidisciplinary team to help diagnose and treat this rare type of lymphoma.

Patients with cutaneous T-cell lymphoma typically develop red, scaly — often itchy — patches on the skin, called plaques. The symptoms can be similar to eczema or psoriasis, often resulting in delayed diagnosis.

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Cutaneous lymphoma is a rare subtype of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The cancer cells start in white blood cells (lymphocytes).

For most people, the lymphoma grows slowly and is very treatable. In a small number of patients, the cutaneous T-cell lymphoma can spread to form tumors, and involve lymph nodes, blood and internal organs.

Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma UVB treatment

Jae Y. Jung, M.D., Ph.D., with Norton Cancer Institute and the only oncologic dermatologist in Louisville and Southern Indiana, administers the treatments as patients stand in front of a panel of UVB-emitting light bulbs for several minutes. Patients wear goggles to protect their eyes.

Two or three treatments a week for a few months can reduce redness and scaling, flatten plaques and suspend development of new plaques.

“We’ve seen excellent results when UVB light is delivered consistently over time,” Dr. Jung said. “We select the very narrow UVB band of light to avoid increasing skin cancer risk and burning.”

Sunlight carries an elevated skin cancer risk and can’t deliver the consistent therapy needed to get cutaneous lymphoma to respond. Similarly, tanning beds aren’t a substitute for UVB treatments because they also increase the risk of skin cancer, especially over the long term of treatment that cutaneous lymphoma requires.

Dr. Jung has established a close working relationship with Joseph J. Maly, M.D., medical oncologist with Norton Cancer Institute. Dr. Maly has specific training and experience using immunotherapy, chemotherapy or a combination to treat complicated T-cell lymphoma.

Dr. Maly’s work has made national and global clinical trial efforts available to qualifying patients in Louisville and Southern Indiana.

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