Long-term efficacy, curative potential, and carcinogenicity of topical mechlorethamine chemotherapy in cutaneous T cell lymphoma

J Am Acad Dermatol. 1989 Mar;20(3):416-28. doi: 10.1016/s0190-9622(89)70051-7.


Complete responses lasting from 4 to 14 years were documented in 65 of 331 (20%) patients with cutaneous T cell lymphoma treated with topical mechlorethamine (HN2) between 1968 and 1982. Such long-lasting remissions occurred most often, but not invariably, in patients with patch or plaque phase mycosis fungoides without palpable lymphadenopathy (stage Ia or Ib). The likelihood of a continuous remission was enhanced by initiation of treatment before an unequivocal pathologic diagnosis. Despite the long-lasting responses in these patients, however, relapses have been documented in 11 (17%) of these patients, and all relapses occurred within 8 years of discontinuing maintenance topical chemotherapy. Thus, in our experience, a continuous remission lasting 8 or more years provides evidence that cutaneous T cell lymphoma can be eradicated by aggressive topical chemotherapy. This circumstance was observed in 35 patients, representing a cure rate of at least 11% overall. In addition, when compared with the general population of the United States, patients who received topical HN2 were at an 8.6-fold and a 1.8-fold increased risk for the development of squamous cell carcinoma and enhanced for Hodgkin's disease and colon cancer but not for systemic cancers known to be induced by systemic administration of alkylating drugs. These results compare favorably with experiences with topical HN2 chemotherapy at other centers but raise questions about the risks associated with long-term administration for maintenance of remissions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Lymphoma / diagnosis
  • Lymphoma / drug therapy*
  • Male
  • Mechlorethamine / administration & dosage
  • Mechlorethamine / adverse effects
  • Mechlorethamine / therapeutic use*
  • Middle Aged
  • Mycosis Fungoides / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Recurrence
  • Remission Induction
  • Sezary Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Skin Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Skin Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • T-Lymphocytes
  • Wilms Tumor / secondary


  • Mechlorethamine