Adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATLL) is a rare and aggressive T-cell lymphoma that is linked to infection by the human T-cell lymphotropic virus 1 (HTLV-1). Human
T-cell lymphotropic virus 1 is a retrovirus—meaning that these viruses do not contain gentic material made of DNA, but instead carry RNA.
These viruses selectively infect only T-cells. Only about 2 percent to 5 percent of patients infected with the HTLV-1 virus will develop ATLL. Currently, physicians have no way of telling which infected patients will develop the lymphoma.
The HTLV-1 virus is in the same class of virus as the HIV/ AIDS virus and is endemic to certain parts of the world such as Japan, the Caribbean, South and Central America, West Africa and the southeastern United States. The HTLV-1 virus is believed to be transmitted through sexual contact, exposure to contaminated blood from either a blood transfusion or used needles and can be passed from mother to child through breastfeeding.