How are aggressive noncontiguous stages II, III and IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) treated?

Updated: Feb 25, 2021
  • Author: Sanjay Vinjamaram, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
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Approximately 40-50% of these patients are cured with standard therapy, approximately 35-40% will respond but ultimately progress or relapse, and the remainder will be have disease that is refractory to primary treatment. Scoring systems such the IPI score have been developed and validated to estimate the response rate or survival rate of a given patient with aggressive lymphomas.

For many years, the treatment of aggressive lymphomas consisted of chemotherapy regimens using multiple drugs. Initial clinical studies were focused on investigating the use of more toxic regimens (higher doses or more drugs).

A prospective randomized trial in patients with diffuse large-cell lymphoma showed no difference in response rate (RR), OS, or time to treatment failure (TTF) at 3 years with any of the following regimens [34] :

  • CHOP

  • Prednisone, methotrexate, leucovorin, doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide, and etoposide—cyclophosphamide, etoposide, Adriamycin, cytarabine, bleomycin, Oncovin, methotrexate, leucovorin, and prednisone (ProMACE-CytaBOM)

  • Methotrexate, bleomycin, doxorubicin (Adriamycin), cyclophosphamide, Oncovin, and dexamethasone (m-BACOD)

  • Methotrexate-leucovorin, Adriamycin, cyclophosphamide, Oncovin, prednisone, and bleomycin (MACOP-B)

  • Hyper-CVAD (cyclophosphamide, vincristine, doxorubicin, dexamethasone, alternating with methotrexate and cytarabine) plus rituximab has been shown to achieve a high rate of durable remission in patients with mantle cell lymphoma. It is a toxic regimen and is typically used in patients with good performance status, who can tolerate it; otherwise, R-CHOP is used. [35]

  • Bendamustine and rituximab combination has been successfully used in patients with mantle cell lymphoma in the first and second-line setting. [36] A study by Weidmann et al found that bendamustine in combination with rituximab may be an alternative treatment for aggressive lymphomas in elderly patients who are not eligible for R-CHOP because of its efficacy and low toxicity. [37]

Bortezomib has also been used in patients with relapsed or refractory mantle cell lymphoma. [38]

ProMACE-CytaBOM, m-BACOD, and MACOP-B all proved more toxic than CHOP. However, non-CHOP regimens such as MACOP-B are used as first-line therapies in some subtypes of NHL such as primary mediastinal large B-cell NHL.

After more than 2 decades of scientific investigations, the treatment of aggressive lymphomas was changed by the clinical development of rituximab. Currently, 6-8 cycles of CHOP chemotherapy in combination with rituximab is the standard of care in patients with advanced disease.

The GELA (Groupe d'Etude des Lymphomes de l'Adulte) study was the first phase III trial to demonstrate the efficacy of combining rituximab with standard doses of CHOP chemotherapy for elderly (older than 60 y) patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. At 5-year follow-up, OS was 58% with rituximab and CHOP versus 46% with CHOP alone. [39] The results of this study were further validated by other international randomized studies favoring the use of rituximab and chemotherapy in elderly patients with aggressive B-cell lymphomas.

Studies in younger patients also showed the benefit of combining rituximab and CHOP chemotherapy. A large international study, the MabThera International Trial (MInT,) supported the role of rituximab-chemotherapy in young patients with aggressive B-cell lymphomas. [40] The study, which has been presented only in an abstract form, was a phase III trial in which 823 patients (ages 18-60 y) with diffuse large B-cell, CD20+ NHL (DLBCL).

These patients were randomized to receive either rituximab plus a standard anthracycline-containing chemotherapy regimen (standard chemotherapy) or standard chemotherapy alone as induction therapy. The rituximab plus standard chemotherapy regimens increased 2-year overall survival (OS) from 86% to 95% compared with standard chemotherapy alone and resulted in significant improvement in time to treatment failure and projected overall survival. [40]

Ongoing research is being focused on identifying patients at risk for treatment failure and developing tailored treatment for patients with aggressive lymphoma based on clinical scores (IPI score) or gene profiles. Patients at high risk of relapse (IPI intermediate or poor risk groups) might have an improved 5-year event-free survival/overall survival from autologous and allogeneic bone marrow or peripheral stem cell transplantation following chemotherapy.

CNS prophylaxis, usually with 4-6 injections of methotrexate intrathecally, is recommended for patients with paranasal sinus or testicular involvement, diffuse small noncleaved cell or Burkitt lymphoma, or lymphoblastic lymphoma. CNS prophylaxis for bone marrow involvement is controversial.

Treatment of acute lymphoblastic lymphoma, a very aggressive form of NHL, is usually patterned after acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) therapy. Other subtypes of high-grade lymphomas are usually treated with more aggressive variations of CHOP chemotherapy, including the addition of high-dose methotrexate or other chemotherapy drugs and higher doses of cyclophosphamide.


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