Lymphoma is a type of cancer that starts in immune cells called lymphocytes. A lymphoma rash can appear as one or more scaly patches, plaques, or nodules.

A lymphoma rash is not a term that doctors usually use, but some people use the term to describe skin-related symptoms of lymphoma. It is typically the result of lymphoma that starts in T or B cells.

The American Cancer Society notes that nearly half of all skin lymphomas are mycosis fungoides (MF). The most common type of cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL), MF, occurs when cancerous T cells are present in the skin with a characteristic presentation of patches, plaques, and sometimes tumor-like lesions.

This can be easily confused with other skin conditions, such as psoriasis or eczema, which can cause similar symptoms.

Early diagnosis and treatment are vital, and the combination of approaches will depend on the type of lymphoma a person has. In this article, learn more about lymphoma rashes.

The most common sign of MF is a rash consisting of one or more scaly, inflamed patches of skin. These patches are generally itchy, and they are easiest to recognize in a bathing suit distribution, commonly appearing on the buttocks and thighs.

Some people with MF experience no other symptoms, at first, beyond the rash.

However, over time, the rash may become more severe and spread to other areas. The affected skin may get thick and hard, and form raised plaques. The plaques may darken and possibly bleed. In some individuals, tumor-like lesions develop on the skin. Also, the cancer may spread to the lymph nodes or other areas of the body.

Other symptoms of lymphoma spreading or progression can include:

These symptoms can result from many types of lymphoma, including those that originate in areas other than the skin, known as systemic lymphomas.

The early symptoms can be easy to overlook, even for an experienced dermatologist, making the diagnosis challenging.

No standard diagnostic criteria for MF exist, and a diagnosis largely relies on the findings of a skin biopsy. To make matters more difficult, eczema, psoriasis, and similar conditions can look like MF on a biopsy. For this reason, the doctor will usually take multiple biopsies.

The following are pictures of a lymphoma rash on different skin tones.

Lymphoma can occur in anyone, though some people have a higher risk.

According to the American Cancer Society, lymphomas in the skin, such as MF, are more common in people in their 50s and 60s.

Other risk factors for developing cutaneous T cell lymphoma include:

  • being male
  • being exposed to air pollution and chemicals
  • having low vitamin D levels
  • using immunosuppressive therapies
  • taking certain medications (such as antihistamines, antiepileptics, and serotonin reuptake inhibitors)
  • having a bacterial infection, such as Staphylococcus aureus
  • having a viral infection, such as Epstein-Barr and HIV

Diagnosing a lymphoma rash, such as MF, can take time. The symptoms of lymphoma can be easy to miss at first, so seeing a doctor early on is vital.

Additionally, the patches and plaques on the skin can be similar to those of conditions such as eczema.

The diagnostic process will include questions about medical history, physical examinations, and blood tests.

The doctor will likely also check for signs of enlarged lymph nodes, and if these are present, they may request a biopsy of an enlarged node.

In addition, imaging tests can help doctors determine whether skin lymphoma has spread to other areas of the body. A doctor may use any of the following:

These imaging techniques help doctors check the organs and tissues for any abnormalities.

Treatment for lymphoma depends on the type and how far it has progressed.

Standard cancer therapies, such as the following, are common treatments for lymphoma:

For skin lymphomas, such as MF, doctors may recommend prescription topical creams or ointments that contain corticosteroids, chemotherapy drugs, retinoids, or imiquimod. These may help control pain and itchiness, clear the rash, and help slow the progress of the cancer.

Most people with MF may also benefit from phototherapy, which uses ultraviolet light. Narrow-band ultraviolet B treatment is a very common phototherapy for MF.

In some cases, the doctor may prescribe a particular medication that aids treatment with ultraviolet A rays. The medical term for this combination is psoralen and ultraviolet A, or PUVA, therapy.

Combination therapies can be very effective in some cases. Authors of 2016 research found that 81% of people included in the study who had MF and a combination of drug and UV light therapy responded to treatment.

In some cases of MF or Sezary syndrome, a doctor may recommend a bone marrow transplant.

Surgery is not a common treatment for cutaneous T cell lymphoma unless a person has only an isolated plaque, which can occur with certain types of this lymphoma.

Below are some commonly asked questions about a lymphoma rash.

What does a lymphoma skin rash look like?

A lymphoma rash can appear as papules (small, pimple-like lesions), patches (flat lesions), plaques (thick, raised or lowered lesions), and nodules or tumors (larger lumps or bumps under the skin).

The rash might show up as more than one type of lesion and on different parts of the skin. Usually, this is in areas not exposed to the sun. Some skin lymphomas appear as a rash over some or most of the body, which is known as erythroderma. Sometimes, larger lesions can break open (ulcerate).

What does lymphoma itch feel like?

An intense itch is a common symptom of cutaneous t-cell lymphomas, including mycosis fungoides (MF) and Sézary syndrome. As the cancer worsens, this can make it hard to sleep. The itch associated with Sézary syndrome can make the skin feel hot and sore.

What do lymphoma bumps look like?

Lymphoma bumps can be papules, which are small, pimple-like bumps. They can also be nodules which are larger, more raised lesions under the skin.

What is a classic symptom of lymphoma?

One hallmark symptom is painless swelling in a lymph node.

While lymphoma rash isn’t a medical term, it’s used to describe skin-related symptoms of lymphoma.

Mycosis fungoides (MF) is the most common type of skin lymphoma, presenting as scaly, itchy patches of skin primarily on the buttocks and thighs.

Diagnosis often requires a skin biopsy, and treatment options depend on the type of lymphoma. This may include topical creams, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, phototherapy, and combination therapies.

The outlook for a person with cutaneous T cell lymphoma varies depending on the type and stage of lymphoma, the patient’s overall health, and their response to treatment.

Many people with MF are able to manage symptoms and keep the cancer from progressing for long periods. In others, the disease progresses quickly and moves to other areas of the body.

Currently, there is no definitive cure for MF. Treatment aims to control the progression of the cancer and manage symptoms.