Adult T-cell leukaemia/lymphoma can mimic other lymphomas in a non-endemic area: Dilemmas in diagnosis and treatment

C. T. Huang, Y. H. Lee, K. C. Chow, C. F. Yang, P. C.H. Chen, L. T. Hsiao, J. P. Gau, C. H. Tzeng, C. Y. Liu, T. J. Chiou

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5 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The diagnosis of Adult T-cell leukaemia/lymphoma (ATL) in non-endemic regions is challenging. Aim: This study analyses the clinicopathologic features and diagnostic processes of ATL patients in Taiwan. Methods: ATL patients diagnosed and treated at Taipei Veterans General Hospital from 1998 through 2010 were retrospectively identified. The diagnosis of ATL was confirmed by in situ detection of human T-cell leukaemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1) when necessary. Patients' data were reviewed and analysed. Results: Fourteen ATL patients were identified, among whom six (42.9%) had an antecedent diagnosis of other malignant lymphomas before the ATL diagnosis, including two diagnosed with Hodgkin disease (HD), one with peripheral T-cell lymphoma, two with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and one with angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma. Of the 14 patients, eight (57%) were subclassified as the acute type, three (21.4%) as the lymphoma type, and three (21.4%) as the chronic type ATL. Five of six (83.3%) patients with initial non-ATL misdiagnosis were diagnosed with non-acute type ATL. In particular, a patient with an antecedent diagnosis of HD presented with typical Reed-Sternberg (RS)-like cells harbouring Epstein-Barr virus genomes in affected lymph nodes. The patient progressed to acute type ATL 3 years after the initial diagnosis, and HTLV-1 genomes were identified in the previous RS-like cells. Conclusion: In non-endemic areas, such as Taiwan, ATL, particularly the non-acute type, may mimic other lymphomas and easily be misdiagnosed. HTLV-1 serology should be routinely screened in all malignant lymphoma patients. In situ detection of HTLV-1 is helpful in cases with diagnostic dilemmas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)374-383
Number of pages10
JournalInternal Medicine Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Adult T-cell leukaemia/lymphoma
  • Hodgkin disease
  • Human T-cell leukaemia virus type 1
  • in situ hybridisation
  • Reed-Sternberg-like cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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