Do We Know What Causes Lymphoma of the Skin?

Some risk factors can make a person more likely to get lymphoma of the skin, but it’s not always clear exactly how these factors might increase risk.

Scientists have learned how certain changes in the DNA inside normal lymphocytes might cause them to become lymphoma cells. DNA is the chemical in each of our cells that makes up our genes – the instructions for how our cells function. We usually look like our parents because they are the source of our DNA. But DNA affects more than just how we look.

Some genes control when our cells grow, divide into new cells, and die at the right time. Certain genes that help cells grow, divide, or live longer are called oncogenes. Others that slow down cell division or cause cells to die at the right time are called tumor suppressor genes. Cancers can be caused by DNA changes that turn on oncogenes or turn off tumor suppressor genes.

Some people inherit DNA mutations (changes) from a parent that increase their risk of developing some types of cancer. But lymphoma of the skin is not one of the cancer types often caused by inherited mutations.

DNA changes related to lymphoma of the skin are usually acquired after birth, rather than being inherited. Some of these acquired changes may have outside causes (such as infections), but often they occur for no apparent reason. They seem to happen more often as we age, which may help explain why skin lymphomas usually occur in older people.

Scientists are learning about the exact gene changes that cause skin lymphomas. But even though they have found some of these gene changes, they still do not know why these changes occur.

The immune system seems to play an important role in some lymphomas. People with immune deficiencies (due to inherited conditions, drug treatment, organ transplants, or HIV infection) seem to have a greater chance of developing skin lymphoma than people without an immune deficiency, but it’s not clear why.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: August 4, 2014 Last Revised: February 24, 2016

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