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Adult Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment (Professional) (cont.)

Indolent, Recurrent Adult Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Note: Some citations in the text of this section are followed by a level of evidence. The PDQ editorial boards use a formal ranking system to help the reader judge the strength of evidence linked to the reported results of a therapeutic strategy. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Levels of Evidence for more information.)

In general, treatment with standard agents rarely produces a cure in patients whose disease has relapsed. Sustained remissions after relapse can often be obtained in patients with indolent lymphomas, but relapse will usually ensue. Favorable survival after relapse has been associated with an age younger than 60 years, complete remission rather than partial remission, and duration of response longer than 1 year. Even the most favorable subset, however, has a tenfold greater mortality compared with age-adjusted U.S. population rates.[1] Patients who experience a relapse with indolent lymphoma can often have their disease controlled with palliative radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or rituximab, an anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody.[2,3] Long-term freedom from second relapse, however, is uncommon and multiple relapses will usually occur. Significant activity for fludarabine and 2-chlorodeoxyadenosine has been demonstrated in relapsed low-grade lymphomas, both as single agents and in combination with other drugs.[4,5,6,7,8,9] Rituximab results in a 40% to 50% response rate in patients who relapse with indolent B-cell lymphomas.[10,11,12,13] Rituximab can also be combined with combination chemotherapy.[14] Responses of 20% to 30% have been reported for lenalidomide, especially for follicular lymphoma and small lymphocytic lymphoma.[15][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Durable responses to radiolabeled monoclonal antibodies, such as yttrium-90 ibritumomab (commercially available) and iodine-131 tositumomab, have also been reported; subsequent chemotherapy regimens can be delivered at the time of relapse following radioimmunotherapy.[16,17,18,19,20,21] In two randomized prospective studies involving previously treated patients with relapsed indolent lymphoma, patients were randomly assigned to rituximab maintenance after retreatment with combination chemotherapy (with or without rituximab during induction); both trials showed prolongation of response duration,[22,23] and one trial demonstrated improvement in median progression-free survival (52 months vs. 15 months, P < .001) and overall survival (OS) (85% vs. 77%, P = .01) at 3 years with a median follow-up of 39 months favoring maintenance rituximab.[23][Level of evidence: 1iiA]

In many institutions, autologous or allogeneic stem cell transplantations are being used for patients whose disease has relapsed. Such an approach is still under evaluation but should be considered in the context of a clinical trial.[24,25,26,27,28] The German Low-Grade Lymphoma Study Group treated 307 patients with follicular lymphoma with two cycles of CHOP-like induction chemotherapy and then randomly assigned them to autologous stem cell transplantation versus interferon maintenance.[29] With a median follow-up of 4.2 years, the 5-year progression-free survival was 65% for transplantation versus 33% for interferon (P < .001), but with no difference in OS.[29][Level of evidence: 1iiDiii]

Patients with indolent lymphoma may experience a relapse with a more aggressive histology. If the clinical pattern of relapse suggests that the disease is behaving in a more aggressive manner, a biopsy should be performed. Documentation of conversion to a more aggressive histology requires an appropriate change to therapy applicable to that histologic type.[30] Rapid growth or discordant growth between various disease sites may indicate a histologic conversion. The risk of histologic transformation was 30% by 10 years in a retrospective review of 325 patients from diagnosis between 1972 and 1999.[31] In this series, high risk factors for subsequent histologic transformation were advanced stage, high-risk Follicular Lymphoma International Prognostic Index , and expectant management. The median survival after transformation was 1 to 2 years, with 25% of patients alive at 5 years and with approximately 10% to 20% of patients alive 10 years after retreatment.[32] Histologic conversions should be treated with the regimens described in the Aggressive, Recurrent Adult Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma section of this summary. The durability of the second remission may be short, and clinical trials should be considered.[32,33,34]

Palliation may be achieved with very low-dose (4 Gy) involved-field radiation therapy for patients with indolent and aggressive relapsed disease.[35]

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with indolent, recurrent adult non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.


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