How is aggressive recurrent non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) treated?

Updated: Feb 25, 2021
  • Author: Sanjay Vinjamaram, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
  • Print

High-dose chemotherapy plus stem-cell transplantation is the treatment of choice for patients who have recurrent aggressive lymphomas. Preliminary studies indicate that approximately 20-40% of patients have a long-term disease-free status, but the precise percentage depends on patient selection and specific treatment used.

In 2019, polatuzumab vedotin, a CD79b-directed antibody-drug conjugate, gained accelerated approval from the FDA for use in combination with bendamustine and a rituximab product for adults with relapsed or recurrent DLBCL who have received at least 2 prior therapies and are not candidates for transplantation. FDA approval was based on a study in which the addition of polatuzumab vedotin to bendamustine plus rituximab led to increased rates of complete and objective responses and prolonged progression-free and overall survival, with manageable toxicity. [51]

Second-line chemotherapy regimens such as ICE (ifosfamide, carboplatin, etoposide), DHAP (dexamethasone, high-dose cytarabine, cisplatin), or EPOCH (etoposide, vincristine, doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide, prednisone) are usually used with rituximab if the tumor is CD20 positive. A retrospective study by Tixier et al concluded that regimens combining dexamethasone and high-dose cytarabine with oxaliplatin (DHAOX) or carboplatin (DHAC) have more favorable toxicity profiles than DHAP; in particular, they are far less likely to cause renal toxicity. [52]

Gemcitabine and navelbine are also being attempted in these relapsed patients. Chemotherapy is usually followed by stem-cell transplantation.

In the PARMA trial, patients with relapsed NHL who were randomized to autologous bone marrow transplantation followed by involved-field radiation therapy did better than those randomized to conventional chemotherapy and involved-field radiation therapy. [53, 54] After a 5-year median follow-up study, the event-free survival (EFS) rate was significantly better with transplantation (46% versus 12%), and the overall survival (OS) rate was also better (53% versus 32%).

Allogeneic transplants have lower relapse rates but higher transplant-related mortality than autologous transplants. [55]

In general, patients who respond to initial therapy and who respond to conventional salvage therapy prior to bone marrow transplantation have better survival outcomes. Patients who relapse late (> 12 mo after diagnosis) have better OS than patients who relapse earlier. Patients who are not candidates for transplantation can be treated with chemotherapy with or without monoclonal antibodies. If possible, these patients should be enrolled into clinical trials.

Did this answer your question?
Additional feedback? (Optional)
Thank you for your feedback!