The importance of the clinical classification of adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATLL) in the prognosis

PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2022 Oct 19;16(10):e0010807. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0010807. eCollection 2022 Oct.


Background: Adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATLL), a peripheral T-cell leukemia/lymphoma associated with the human T-cell lymphotropic virus type-1 (HTLV-1), has been classified following the clinical forms defined by Shimoyama in 1991. A suggestion to modify Shimoyama's classification was proposed in 2007 to differentiate within the smoldering patients those who presented nodules or tumors in the skin without lung involvement, which was named the primary cutaneous tumoral (PCT) form of ATLL. In the present study, according to their clinicopathological characteristics, we estimated the mortality rates of 143 ATLL patients from Bahia, Brazil. We also evaluated the importance of classifying PCT/ATLL separately from the smoldering type on disease prognosis.

Methodology/principal findings: Diagnosis of ATLL was established based on a positive serology for HTLV-1, histopathological and/or cytological diagnosis of peripheral T-cell leukemia/lymphoma. Patients were clinically grouped according to Shimoyama's classification, considering PCT variants separately from the smoldering cases. Bivariate and multivariable survival analyses were applied to identify factors associated with disease prognosis. Significant differences in the median survival time were observed between the clinical types, with the smoldering type presenting the longest median survival (109 months) compared to the other forms (<50 months); the median survival for PCT/ATLL was 20 months. Multivariable analysis confirmed that ATLL clinical types were associated with survival, with a better prognosis for patients with the smoldering and chronic types. Furthermore, skin involvement was related to a worse outcome in the multivariable analysis, regardless of the clinical form and presence of lymphadenopathy.

Conclusions/significance: Our results reinforce the importance of considering the PCT/ATLL separately from the smoldering type when classifying ATLL to better define prognosis and treatment, given the significant difference in the survival of patients between the smoldering form and PCT/ATLL. Skin involvement should also be considered an independent prognostic factor in patients with ATLL.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Human T-lymphotropic virus 1*
  • Humans
  • Leukemia-Lymphoma, Adult T-Cell* / diagnosis
  • Lymphoma* / complications
  • Prognosis
  • Skin / pathology

Grants and funding

The study was supported by the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq, (1) 409985/2016-3 (ALB) and (2) 310249/2017-1 (LF) and by the Fundação de Apoio à Pesquisa do Estado da Bahia (FAPESB,, Brazil: (1) PNX0008/2014/ Fapesb, (2) Edital 08/2014 – PANE (ALB) and (3) RED0028/2012 (LF). GSR receives a research scholarship award from Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.