Rare Skin Lymphoma Appears Treatable with Antibiotics

Research in lab

It is common for patients with a rare lymphoma, cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL), to also contract staphylococcal infections in the skin. CTCL is a cancer of the T-cells in the skin. CTCL can also involve the blood, lymph nodes, and other internal organs. Researchers with the LEO Foundation Skin Immunology Research Center at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, the University of Copenhagen, showed that aggressive antibiotic treatment could not only inhibit the staph infection, but also the cancer cells.

The research was published in the journal blood. The University of Copenhagen team worked with researchers with Aarhus and Zealand University Hospitals and Aarhus University.

“When we inhibit the staphylococcal bacteria with antibiotics, we simultaneously remove the activation of the immune cells,” stated Niels Ødum, senior author of the study. “This means that they do not produce as many cytokines, and therefore the cancer cells cannot get the extra ‘fuel.’ As a result, the cancer cells are inhibited from growing as fast as they did during the bacterial attack. This finding is ground-breaking as it is the first time ever that we see this connection between bacteria and cancer cells in patients.”

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Previously, clinicians were reluctant to treat CTCL patients with skin infections with antibiotics. The concern was that this would only cause the growth of antibiotic-resistant staphylococci after the treatment, but this research suggests otherwise.

“It has previously been seen that antibiotics have had some kind of positive effect on some of these patients, but it has never been studied what it actually does to the cancer itself,” Ødum stated. “Our finding shows that it may actually be a good idea to give patients with staphylococci on the skin this treatment because it inhibits the cancer and at the same time possibly reduces the risk of new infections.”

The majority of CTCL patients only have skin symptoms. Some patients’ cancer spreads to the lymph nodes and internal organs. CTCL actually can apply to several different diseases with a broad range of symptoms and outcomes. The most common type of CTCL, accounting for about half, is Mycosis Fungoides (MF), which appears different in each patient. Another type is Sezary Syndrome, marked by lymphoma cells in the blood. These patients have extensive thin, red, itchy rashes on the skin.

The researchers will continue their research, initially examining the link between cancer and bacteria. They hope it presents the possibility of new treatments that target the bacteria linked to the diseases without eradicating the bacteria that protect the skin.

“We do not know if this finding is only valid for lymphoma,” Ødum stated. “We see it particularly in this type of cancer because it is a cancer within the immune system. The cancer cells already ‘understand’ the signals that the immune cells send out. When the immune cells are put to work, so are the cancer cells. At any rate, it is very interesting and relevant to take a closer look at the interaction between bacteria and cancer, which we see here.”

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