What is angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL)?

Angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL) is a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. AITL develops when T-cells become abnormal (cancerous). T-cells are white blood cells that normally help fight infection. They are sometimes called T-lymphocytes.

The abnormal T-cells (lymphoma cells) usually build up in the lymph nodes, but they can affect other parts of the body.

AITL mainly affects adults. It is usually affects older people, usually around the age of 70.

It is fast-growing, and treatment is often started soon after diagnosis.

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Symptoms of angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL)

Symptoms of angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL) often include:

  • feeling generally unwell
  • having a rash or itchy skin
  • having swellings in the neck, armpit or groin - these are caused by lymphoma cells building up in the lymph nodes.

B symptoms

Some people also have symptoms that doctors call B symptoms. These can include:

  • drenching night sweats which require a change of nightwear and bed covers
  • high temperatures (fevers) with no obvious cause
  • unexplained weight loss.

Knowing if you have any B symptoms will help your doctor to stage the lymphoma and plan your treatment.

Other symptoms

Sometimes AITL spreads to other areas of the body, such as the lungs or tummy area (abdomen).

Depending on where the lymphoma spreads to, this can cause symptoms such as:

  • shortness of breath
  • a swollen tummy.

General symptoms of AITL may include loss of appetite and tiredness.

We have more information about the signs and symptoms of lymphoma.

Causes of angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL)

The causes of angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL) are mostly unknown.

Like other cancers AITL, is not infectious. It cannot be passed on to other people.

We have more information about causes and risk factors for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Diagnosis of angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL)

Angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL) often causes symptoms that are like other conditions. This sometimes makes diagnosis difficult.

Biopsy for lymphoma

The most common test for diagnosing lymphoma is a biopsy. A doctor will take a sample of tissue from the affected area. The most common place to take a biopsy from is an enlarged lymph node. This is called a lymph node biopsy. You may have all or a part of the lymph node removed. The tissue will be sent to a laboratory for testing. You may also have biopsies taken from other areas of your body.

You can find out more about further tests you may have in our information about non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Waiting for test results can be difficult. You may find it helpful to talk to your family, friends or specialist nurse.

The stages and grades of angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL)

Your test results will help your doctors find out how many areas of your body are affected by lymphoma and where these areas are. This is called staging.

Lymphomas are also grouped as either low-grade or high-grade. Low-grade lymphomas are usually slow growing. High-grade lymphomas usually grow more quickly. Angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL) is a high-grade lymphoma and normally develops quickly.

Knowing the stage and grade of the lymphoma helps your doctor plan the right treatment for you.

We have more information about the stages and grades of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Treatment for angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL)

A team of specialists will meet to discuss the best possible treatment for you. This is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

Your doctor, cancer specialist or nurse will explain the different treatments and their side effects. They will also talk to you about things to consider when making treatment decisions

Treatment depends on the stage of the lymphoma, and whether you have symptoms that are causing problems. The aim of treatment is to control the lymphoma for as long as possible. This is called remission.

You may have some treatments as part of a clinical trial.

The most common treatments are:

  • Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy is an important treatment for angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL). Often a combination of drugs are used such as:

  • Targeted therapies

    Targeted therapies may be used to treat AITL as part of a clinical trial.

  • Steroids

    Steroids are drugs that are often given with chemotherapy to treat lymphomas. They help make chemotherapy more effective. Sometimes steroids are given on their own as a treatment for AITL.

  • Stem cell transplants

    Stem cell transplants are sometimes used to help control the lymphoma or if it has come back after treatment. Stem cell transplants are intensive treatments, so it is not suitable for everyone. You may have a transplant using:

Treatments may make all signs of the AITL disappear (called remission). But there is a risk AITL will come back. This is called recurrence or relapse. If this happens, further treatment can usually be given to manage AITL. We have more information about treating lymphoma that has come back.

After angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma treatment (AITL)

You will have regular follow-up appointments after your treatment. You can talk to your doctor or nurse about any concerns you may have at these appointments. Your doctor will want to know how you are feeling, and to check you are recovering from any side effects of treatment.

Late effects

Sometimes side effects may continue or develop months or years after treatment. These are called late effects. We have more information about long-term and late effects of treatment for lymphoma.

Sex life and fertility

Cancer and its treatment can sometimes affect your sex life. There ways to improve your sexual well-being and to manage any problems.

Treatment for lymphoma may affect your fertility. If you are worried about your fertility it is important to talk with your doctor before you start treatment. We have more information about:

Well-being and recovery

Even if you already have a healthy lifestyle, you may choose to make some positive lifestyle changes after treatment.

Making small changes such as eating well and keeping active can improve your health and wellbeing and help your body recover.

Getting support

Everyone has their own way of dealing with illness and the different emotions they experience. You may find it helpful to talk things over with family and friends or your doctor or nurse.

Macmillan is also here to support you. If you would like to talk, you can:

The organisations below also offer information and support:

  • Blood Cancer UK

    Blood Cancer UK offers support and information to people affected by blood cancers, including lymphoma.

  • Lymphoma Action

    Lymphoma Action gives emotional support, advice and information for people with Hodgkin lymphoma or non-Hodgkin lymphoma and those close to them. It has a national network of people with lymphoma, as well as local groups. Their website has a section called trialslink where you can see information about lymphoma clinical trials.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL) information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at  cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Blood and bone marrow cancers. NICE Pathways. Last accessed 3 December 2020.

    Auer. R, Cook. L et al. Pan-London Haemato-Oncology Clinical Guidelines. Lymphoid Malignancies. Part 5: Less common lymphoid malignancies. January 2020. Available here: Pan-London-Less-Common-Guidelines-Jan-2020.pdf (rmpartners.nhs.uk)

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Anne Parker, Consultant Haematologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Reviewed: 01 March 2021
Reviewed: 01/03/2021
Next review: 01 March 2024
Next review: 01/03/2024