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Adult Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI]

This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

General Information About Adult Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL)

The non-Hodgkin lymphomas (NHL) are a heterogeneous group of lymphoproliferative malignancies with differing patterns of behavior and responses to treatment.[1]

Like Hodgkin lymphoma, NHL usually originates in lymphoid tissues and can spread to other organs. NHL, however, is much less predictable than Hodgkin lymphoma and has a far greater predilection to disseminate to extranodal sites. The prognosis depends on the histologic type, stage, and treatment.

Incidence and Mortality

Estimated new cases and deaths from NHL in the United States in 2022:[2]

  • New cases: 80,470.
  • Deaths: 20,250.


NHL usually originates in lymphoid tissues.

Lymph system; drawing shows the lymph vessels and lymph organs including the lymph nodes, tonsils, thymus, spleen, and bone marrow. One inset shows the inside structure of a lymph node and the attached lymph vessels with arrows showing how the lymph (clear fluid) moves into and out of the lymph node. Another inset shows a close up of bone marrow with blood cells.
Anatomy of the lymph system.

Prognosis and Survival

NHL can be divided into two prognostic groups: the indolent lymphomas and the aggressive lymphomas.

Indolent NHL types have a relatively good prognosis with a median survival as long as 20 years, but they usually are not curable in advanced clinical stages.[3] Early-stage (stage I and stage II) indolent NHL can be effectively treated with radiation therapy alone. Most of the indolent types are nodular (or follicular) in morphology.

The aggressive type of NHL has a shorter natural history, but a significant number of these patients can be cured with intensive combination chemotherapy regimens.

In general, with modern treatment of patients with NHL, the overall survival rate at 5 years is over 60%. Of patients with aggressive NHL, more than 50% can be cured. Most relapses occur in the first 2 years after therapy. The risk of late relapse is higher in patients who manifest both indolent and aggressive histologies.[4]

While indolent NHL is responsive to immunotherapy, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, a continuous rate of relapse is usually seen in advanced stages. Patients, however, can often be re-treated with considerable success if the disease histology remains low grade. Patients who present with or convert to aggressive forms of NHL may have sustained complete remissions with combination chemotherapy regimens or aggressive consolidation with marrow or stem cell support.[5,6]

Related Summaries

Other PDQ summaries containing information related to non-Hodgkin lymphoma treatment include the following:

  • Childhood Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment


  1. Shankland KR, Armitage JO, Hancock BW: Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Lancet 380 (9844): 848-57, 2012.
  2. American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts and Figures 2022. American Cancer Society, 2022. Available online. Last accessed January 12, 2022.
  3. Tan D, Horning SJ, Hoppe RT, et al.: Improvements in observed and relative survival in follicular grade 1-2 lymphoma during 4 decades: the Stanford University experience. Blood 122 (6): 981-7, 2013.
  4. Cabanillas F, Velasquez WS, Hagemeister FB, et al.: Clinical, biologic, and histologic features of late relapses in diffuse large cell lymphoma. Blood 79 (4): 1024-8, 1992.
  5. Bastion Y, Sebban C, Berger F, et al.: Incidence, predictive factors, and outcome of lymphoma transformation in follicular lymphoma patients. J Clin Oncol 15 (4): 1587-94, 1997.
  6. Yuen AR, Kamel OW, Halpern J, et al.: Long-term survival after histologic transformation of low-grade follicular lymphoma. J Clin Oncol 13 (7): 1726-33, 1995.

Late Effects of Treatment for Adult NHL

Late effects of treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) have been observed. Pelvic radiation therapy and large cumulative doses of cyclophosphamide have been associated with a high risk of permanent sterility.[1] For as many as three decades after diagnosis, patients are at a significantly elevated risk of developing second primary cancers, especially the following:[1,2,3]

  • Lung cancer.
  • Brain cancer.
  • Kidney cancer.
  • Bladder cancer.
  • Melanoma.
  • Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • Acute nonlymphocytic leukemia.

Left ventricular dysfunction was a significant late effect in long-term survivors of high-grade NHL who received more than 200 mg/m² of doxorubicin.[4,5]

Myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myelogenous leukemia are late complications of myeloablative therapy with autologous bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cell support, as well as conventional chemotherapy-containing alkylating agents.[1,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13] Most of these patients show clonal hematopoiesis even before the transplantation, suggesting that the hematologic injury usually occurs during induction or reinduction chemotherapy.[8,14,15] With a median 10-year follow-up after autologous bone marrow transplantation (BMT) with conditioning using cyclophosphamide and total-body radiation therapy, in a series of 605 patients, the incidence of a second malignancy was 21%, and 10% of those were solid tumors.[16]

Successful pregnancies with children born free of congenital abnormalities have been reported in young women after autologous BMT.[17]

Long-term impaired immune health was evaluated in a retrospective cohort study of 21,690 survivors of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma from the California Cancer Registry. Elevated incidence rate ratios were found up to 10 years later for pneumonia (10.8-fold), meningitis (5.3-fold), immunoglobulin deficiency (17.6-fold), and autoimmune cytopenias (12-fold).[18]

Some patients have osteopenia or osteoporosis at the start of therapy; bone density may worsen after therapy for lymphoma.[19]


  1. Mudie NY, Swerdlow AJ, Higgins CD, et al.: Risk of second malignancy after non-Hodgkin's lymphoma: a British Cohort Study. J Clin Oncol 24 (10): 1568-74, 2006.
  2. Travis LB, Curtis RE, Glimelius B, et al.: Second cancers among long-term survivors of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. J Natl Cancer Inst 85 (23): 1932-7, 1993.
  3. Hemminki K, Lenner P, Sundquist J, et al.: Risk of subsequent solid tumors after non-Hodgkin's lymphoma: effect of diagnostic age and time since diagnosis. J Clin Oncol 26 (11): 1850-7, 2008.
  4. Haddy TB, Adde MA, McCalla J, et al.: Late effects in long-term survivors of high-grade non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. J Clin Oncol 16 (6): 2070-9, 1998.
  5. Moser EC, Noordijk EM, van Leeuwen FE, et al.: Long-term risk of cardiovascular disease after treatment for aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Blood 107 (7): 2912-9, 2006.
  6. Darrington DL, Vose JM, Anderson JR, et al.: Incidence and characterization of secondary myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myelogenous leukemia following high-dose chemoradiotherapy and autologous stem-cell transplantation for lymphoid malignancies. J Clin Oncol 12 (12): 2527-34, 1994.
  7. Stone RM, Neuberg D, Soiffer R, et al.: Myelodysplastic syndrome as a late complication following autologous bone marrow transplantation for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. J Clin Oncol 12 (12): 2535-42, 1994.
  8. Armitage JO, Carbone PP, Connors JM, et al.: Treatment-related myelodysplasia and acute leukemia in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma patients. J Clin Oncol 21 (5): 897-906, 2003.
  9. André M, Mounier N, Leleu X, et al.: Second cancers and late toxicities after treatment of aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma with the ACVBP regimen: a GELA cohort study on 2837 patients. Blood 103 (4): 1222-8, 2004.
  10. Oddou S, Vey N, Viens P, et al.: Second neoplasms following high-dose chemotherapy and autologous stem cell transplantation for malignant lymphomas: a report of six cases in a cohort of 171 patients from a single institution. Leuk Lymphoma 31 (1-2): 187-94, 1998.
  11. Lenz G, Dreyling M, Schiegnitz E, et al.: Moderate increase of secondary hematologic malignancies after myeloablative radiochemotherapy and autologous stem-cell transplantation in patients with indolent lymphoma: results of a prospective randomized trial of the German Low Grade Lymphoma Study Group. J Clin Oncol 22 (24): 4926-33, 2004.
  12. McLaughlin P, Estey E, Glassman A, et al.: Myelodysplasia and acute myeloid leukemia following therapy for indolent lymphoma with fludarabine, mitoxantrone, and dexamethasone (FND) plus rituximab and interferon alpha. Blood 105 (12): 4573-5, 2005.
  13. Morton LM, Curtis RE, Linet MS, et al.: Second malignancy risks after non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia: differences by lymphoma subtype. J Clin Oncol 28 (33): 4935-44, 2010.
  14. Mach-Pascual S, Legare RD, Lu D, et al.: Predictive value of clonality assays in patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma undergoing autologous bone marrow transplant: a single institution study. Blood 91 (12): 4496-503, 1998.
  15. Lillington DM, Micallef IN, Carpenter E, et al.: Detection of chromosome abnormalities pre-high-dose treatment in patients developing therapy-related myelodysplasia and secondary acute myelogenous leukemia after treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. J Clin Oncol 19 (9): 2472-81, 2001.
  16. Brown JR, Yeckes H, Friedberg JW, et al.: Increasing incidence of late second malignancies after conditioning with cyclophosphamide and total-body irradiation and autologous bone marrow transplantation for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. J Clin Oncol 23 (10): 2208-14, 2005.
  17. Jackson GH, Wood A, Taylor PR, et al.: Early high dose chemotherapy intensification with autologous bone marrow transplantation in lymphoma associated with retention of fertility and normal pregnancies in females. Scotland and Newcastle Lymphoma Group, UK. Leuk Lymphoma 28 (1-2): 127-32, 1997.
  18. Shree T, Li Q, Glaser SL, et al.: Impaired Immune Health in Survivors of Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma. J Clin Oncol 38 (15): 1664-1675, 2020.
  19. Westin JR, Thompson MA, Cataldo VD, et al.: Zoledronic acid for prevention of bone loss in patients receiving primary therapy for lymphomas: a prospective, randomized controlled phase III trial. Clin Lymphoma Myeloma Leuk 13 (2): 99-105, 2013.

Cellular Classification of Adult NHL

A pathologist should be considered for consultation before a biopsy because some studies require special preparation of tissue (e.g., frozen tissue). Knowledge of cell surface markers and immunoglobulin and T-cell receptor gene rearrangements may help with diagnostic and therapeutic decisions. The clonal excess of light-chain immunoglobulin may differentiate malignant from reactive cells. Since the prognosis and the approach to treatment are influenced by histopathology, outside biopsy specimens should be carefully reviewed by a hematopathologist who is experienced in diagnosing lymphomas. Although lymph node biopsies are recommended whenever possible, sometimes immunophenotypic data are sufficient to allow diagnosis of lymphoma when fine-needle aspiration cytology is preferred.[1,2]

Historical Classification Systems

Historically, uniform treatment of patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) has been hampered by the lack of a uniform classification system. In 1982, results of a consensus study were published as the Working Formulation.[3] The Working Formulation combined results from six major classification systems into one classification. This allowed comparison of studies from different institutions and countries. The Rappaport classification, which also follows, is no longer in common use.

Table 1. Historical Classification Systems for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL)
Working Formulation[3] Rappaport Classification
Low grade  
A. Small lymphocytic, consistent with chronic lymphocytic leukemia Diffuse lymphocytic, well-differentiated
B. Follicular, predominantly small-cleaved cell Nodular lymphocytic, poorly differentiated
C. Follicular, mixed small-cleaved, and large cell Nodular mixed, lymphocytic, and histiocytic
Intermediate grade  
D. Follicular, predominantly large cell Nodular histiocytic
E. Diffuse, small-cleaved cell Diffuse lymphocytic, poorly differentiated
F. Diffuse mixed, small and large cell Diffuse mixed, lymphocytic, and histiocytic
G. Diffuse, large cell, cleaved, or noncleaved cell Diffuse histiocytic
High grade  
H. Immunoblastic, large cell Diffuse histiocytic
I. Lymphoblastic, convoluted, or nonconvoluted cell Diffuse lymphoblastic
J. Small noncleaved-cell, Burkitt, or non-Burkitt Diffuse undifferentiated Burkitt or non-Burkitt

Current Classification Systems

As the understanding of NHL has improved and as the histopathologic diagnosis of NHL has become more sophisticated with the use of immunologic and genetic techniques, a number of new pathologic entities have been described.[4] In addition, the understanding and treatment of many of the previously described pathologic subtypes have changed. As a result, the Working Formulation has become outdated and less useful to clinicians and pathologists. Thus, European and American pathologists have proposed a new classification, the Revised European American Lymphoma (REAL) classification.[5,6,7,8] Since 1995, members of the European and American Hematopathology societies have been collaborating on a new World Health Organization (WHO) classification, which represents an updated version of the REAL system.[9,10]

The WHO modification of the REAL classification recognizes three major categories of lymphoid malignancies based on morphology and cell lineage: B-cell neoplasms, T-cell/natural killer (NK)-cell neoplasms, and Hodgkin lymphoma (HL). Both lymphomas and lymphoid leukemias are included in this classification because both solid and circulating phases are present in many lymphoid neoplasms and distinction between them is artificial. For example, B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and B-cell small lymphocytic lymphoma are simply different manifestations of the same neoplasm, as are lymphoblastic lymphomas and acute lymphocytic leukemias. Within the B-cell and T-cell categories, two subdivisions are recognized: precursor neoplasms, which correspond to the earliest stages of differentiation, and more mature differentiated neoplasms.[9,10]

Updated REAL/WHO classification

B-cell neoplasms

  1. Precursor B-cell neoplasm: precursor B-acute lymphoblastic leukemia/lymphoblastic lymphoma (LBL).
  2. Peripheral B-cell neoplasms.
    1. B-cell CLL/small lymphocytic lymphoma.
    2. B-cell prolymphocytic leukemia.
    3. Lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma/immunocytoma.
    4. Mantle cell lymphoma.
    5. Follicular lymphoma.
    6. Extranodal marginal zone B-cell lymphoma of mucosa-associated lymphatic tissue (MALT) type.
    7. Nodal marginal zone B-cell lymphoma (± monocytoid B-cells).
    8. Splenic marginal zone lymphoma (± villous lymphocytes).
    9. Hairy cell leukemia.
    10. Plasmacytoma/plasma cell myeloma.
    11. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
    12. Burkitt lymphoma.

T-cell and putative NK-cell neoplasms

  1. Precursor T-cell neoplasm: precursor T-acute lymphoblastic leukemia/LBL.
  2. Peripheral T-cell and NK-cell neoplasms.
    1. T-cell CLL/prolymphocytic leukemia.
    2. T-cell granular lymphocytic leukemia.
    3. Mycosis fungoides (including Sézary syndrome).
    4. Peripheral T-cell lymphoma, not otherwise characterized.
    5. Hepatosplenic gamma/delta T-cell lymphoma.
    6. Subcutaneous panniculitis-like T-cell lymphoma.
    7. Angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma.
    8. Extranodal T-/NK-cell lymphoma, nasal type.
    9. Enteropathy-type intestinal T-cell lymphoma.
    10. Adult T-cell lymphoma/leukemia (human T-lymphotrophic virus [HTLV] 1+).
    11. Anaplastic large cell lymphoma, primary systemic type.
    12. Anaplastic large cell lymphoma, primary cutaneous type.
    13. Aggressive NK-cell leukemia.


  1. Nodular lymphocyte-predominant HL.
  2. Classical HL.
    1. Nodular sclerosis HL.
    2. Lymphocyte-rich classical HL.
    3. Mixed-cellularity HL.
    4. Lymphocyte-depleted HL.

The REAL classification encompasses all the lymphoproliferative neoplasms. Refer to the following PDQ summaries for more information:

  • Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment
  • Adult Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment
  • AIDS-Related Lymphoma Treatment
  • Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Treatment
  • Hairy Cell Leukemia Treatment
  • Mycosis Fungoides (Including Sézary Syndrome) Treatment
  • Plasma Cell Neoplasms (Including Multiple Myeloma) Treatment
  • Primary CNS Lymphoma Treatment

PDQ modification of REAL classification of lymphoproliferative diseases

  1. Plasma cell disorders. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Plasma Cell Neoplasms [Including Multiple Myeloma] Treatment for more information.)
    1. Bone.
    2. Extramedullary.
      1. Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance.
      2. Plasmacytoma.
      3. Multiple myeloma.
      4. Amyloidosis.
  2. HL. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Adult Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment for more information.)
    1. Nodular sclerosis HL.
    2. Lymphocyte-rich classical HL.
    3. Mixed-cellularity HL.
    4. Lymphocyte-depleted HL.
  3. Indolent lymphoma/leukemia.
    1. Follicular lymphoma (follicular small-cleaved cell [grade 1], follicular mixed small-cleaved, and large cell [grade 2], and diffuse, small-cleaved cell).
    2. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Treatment for more information.)
    3. Lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma (Waldenström macroglobulinemia).
    4. Extranodal marginal zone B-cell lymphoma (MALT lymphoma).
    5. Nodal marginal zone B-cell lymphoma (monocytoid B-cell lymphoma).
    6. Splenic marginal zone lymphoma (splenic lymphoma with villous lymphocytes).
    7. Hairy cell leukemia. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Hairy Cell Leukemia Treatment for more information.)
    8. Mycosis fungoides (including Sézary syndrome). (Refer to the PDQ summary on Mycosis Fungoides [Including Sézary Syndrome] Treatment for more information.)
    9. T-cell granular lymphocytic leukemia. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Treatment for more information.)
    10. Primary cutaneous anaplastic large cell lymphoma/lymphomatoid papulosis (CD30-positive).
    11. Nodular lymphocyte–predominant Hodgkin lymphoma. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Adult Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment for more information.)
  4. Aggressive lymphoma/leukemia.
    1. Diffuse large cell lymphoma (includes diffuse mixed-cell, diffuse large cell, immunoblastic, and T-cell rich large B-cell lymphoma).


      1. Mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma.
      2. Follicular large cell lymphoma (grade 3).
      3. Anaplastic large cell lymphoma (CD30-positive).
      4. Extranodal NK-/T-cell lymphoma, nasal type/aggressive NK-cell leukemia/blastic NK-cell lymphoma.
      5. Lymphomatoid granulomatosis (angiocentric pulmonary B-cell lymphoma).
      6. Angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma.
      7. Peripheral T-cell lymphoma, unspecified.
        • Subcutaneous panniculitis-like T-cell lymphoma.
        • Hepatosplenic T-cell lymphoma.
      8. Enteropathy-type T-cell lymphoma.
      9. Intravascular large B-cell lymphoma.
    2. Burkitt lymphoma/Burkitt cell leukemia/Burkitt-like lymphoma.
    3. Precursor B-cell or T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma/leukemia. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment for more information.)
    4. Primary central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Primary CNS Lymphoma Treatment for more information.)
    5. Adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma (HTLV 1+).
    6. Mantle cell lymphoma.
    7. Posttransplantation lymphoproliferative disorder.
    8. AIDS-related lymphoma. (Refer to the PDQ summary on AIDS-Related Lymphoma Treatment for more information.)
    9. True histiocytic lymphoma.
    10. Primary effusion lymphoma.
    11. B-cell or T-cell prolymphocytic leukemia. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Treatment for more information.)
    12. Plasmablastic lymphoma.


  1. Zeppa P, Marino G, Troncone G, et al.: Fine-needle cytology and flow cytometry immunophenotyping and subclassification of non-Hodgkin lymphoma: a critical review of 307 cases with technical suggestions. Cancer 102 (1): 55-65, 2004.
  2. Young NA, Al-Saleem T: Diagnosis of lymphoma by fine-needle aspiration cytology using the revised European-American classification of lymphoid neoplasms. Cancer 87 (6): 325-45, 1999.
  3. National Cancer Institute sponsored study of classifications of non-Hodgkin's lymphomas: summary and description of a working formulation for clinical usage. The Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Pathologic Classification Project. Cancer 49 (10): 2112-35, 1982.
  4. Pugh WC: Is the working formulation adequate for the classification of the low grade lymphomas? Leuk Lymphoma 10 (Suppl 1): 1-8, 1993.
  5. Harris NL, Jaffe ES, Stein H, et al.: A revised European-American classification of lymphoid neoplasms: a proposal from the International Lymphoma Study Group. Blood 84 (5): 1361-92, 1994.
  6. Pittaluga S, Bijnens L, Teodorovic I, et al.: Clinical analysis of 670 cases in two trials of the European Organization for the Research and Treatment of Cancer Lymphoma Cooperative Group subtyped according to the Revised European-American Classification of Lymphoid Neoplasms: a comparison with the Working Formulation. Blood 87 (10): 4358-67, 1996.
  7. Armitage JO, Weisenburger DD: New approach to classifying non-Hodgkin's lymphomas: clinical features of the major histologic subtypes. Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Classification Project. J Clin Oncol 16 (8): 2780-95, 1998.
  8. A clinical evaluation of the International Lymphoma Study Group classification of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Classification Project. Blood 89 (11): 3909-18, 1997.
  9. Pileri SA, Milani M, Fraternali-Orcioni G, et al.: From the R.E.A.L. Classification to the upcoming WHO scheme: a step toward universal categorization of lymphoma entities? Ann Oncol 9 (6): 607-12, 1998.
  10. Society for Hematopathology Program: Society for Hematopathology Program. Am J Surg Pathol 21 (1): 114-121, 1997.

Indolent NHL

Indolent non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) includes the following subtypes:

  • Follicular lymphoma.
  • Lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma (Waldenström macroglobulinemia).
  • Marginal zone lymphoma.
  • Splenic marginal zone lymphoma.
  • Primary cutaneous anaplastic large cell lymphoma.

Follicular Lymphoma

Follicular lymphoma comprises 20% of all NHL and as many as 70% of the indolent lymphomas reported in American and European clinical trials.[1,2,3] Most patients with follicular lymphoma are age 50 years and older and present with widespread disease at diagnosis. Nodal involvement is most common and is often accompanied by splenic and bone marrow disease. Rearrangement of the BCL2 gene is present in more than 90% of patients with follicular lymphoma; overexpression of the BCL2 protein is associated with the inability to eradicate the lymphoma by inhibiting apoptosis.[4]


Despite the advanced stage, the median survival ranges from 8 to 15 years, leading to the designation of being indolent.[5,6,7] Patients with advanced-stage follicular lymphoma are not cured with current therapeutic options. The rate of relapse is fairly consistent over time, even in patients who have achieved complete responses to treatment.[8] Watchful waiting, i.e., the deferring of treatment until the patient becomes symptomatic, is an option for patients with advanced-stage follicular lymphoma.[9,10] An international index for follicular lymphoma (i.e., the Follicular Lymphoma International Prognostic Index [FLIPI]) [11,12,13] identified five significant risk factors prognostic of overall survival (OS):

  1. Age (≤60 years vs. >60 years).
  2. Serum lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) (normal vs. elevated).
  3. Stage (stage I or stage II vs. stage III or stage IV).
  4. Hemoglobin level (≥120 g/L vs. <120 g/L).
  5. Number of nodal areas (≤4 vs. >4).

Patients with one risk factor or none have an 85% 10-year survival rate, and three or more risk factors confer a 40% 10-year survival rate.[11] In a revised FLIPI-2, an elevated beta-2-microglobulin and lymph node size of more than 6 cm are proposed prognostic factors instead of serum LDH and the number of nodal areas.[14] Although the FLIPI and FLIPI-2 indices can predict progression-free survival (PFS) and OS, the scores cannot be used to establish the need for therapy, nor can they be used to predict response to therapy.[11,14] The primary use of FLIPI or FLIPI-2 is to assure a balance of prognostic factors or to define entry requirements in randomized clinical trials. Individuals with an adverse FLIPI score may well benefit from watchful waiting or may respond well to initial therapy. An alternative prognostic index using only beta-2-microglobulin and initial bone marrow involvement (PRIMA-PI) has the disadvantage of requiring an invasive test not usually required outside the context of a clinical trial.[15]

Two retrospective analyses identified a high-risk group that had a 50% OS rate at 5 years when relapse occurred after induction chemoimmunotherapy at 24 or 30 months; this has not been validated in prospective studies or an independent cohort.[16,17] A third retrospective analysis of 296 patients who received bendamustine-rituximab found a 2-year OS rate of 38% (95% confidence interval [CI], 20%−55%) after progression of disease at 24 months (POD24). Most of these patients (76%) had transformed disease (histologic progression to diffuse large B-cell lymphoma).[18] These higher-risk POD24 patients represent a target population for clinical trials.

Follicular, small-cleaved cell lymphoma and follicular mixed small-cleaved and large cell lymphoma do not have reproducibly different disease-free survival or OS.

Therapeutic approaches

Because of the often indolent clinical course and the lack of symptoms in some patients with follicular lymphoma, watchful waiting remains a standard of care during the initial encounter and for patients with slow asymptomatic relapsing disease. When therapy is required, numerous therapeutic options may be employed in varying sequences with an OS equivalence at 5 to 10 years.[9,19,20,21] Rituximab can be given alone or in combination with various chemotherapy options.[21,22] Rituximab can also be combined with the immunomodulating-agent lenalidomide to avoid the short- and long-term toxicities of cytotoxic agents.[23,24,25] Another anti–CD20 monoclonal antibody, obinutuzumab, can be administered with combination chemotherapy.[26] Inhibitors of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) are also effective in patients with relapsed or refractory disease.[27,28,29] Consolidation therapy for relapsed disease after reinduction therapy using autologous stem cell transplant (SCT) or allogeneic SCT can be considered.[30]

Follicular lymphoma in situ and primary follicular lymphoma of the duodenum are particularly indolent variants that rarely progress and rarely require therapy.[31,32] A so-called pediatric-type nodal follicular lymphoma has indolent behavior and rarely recurs; adult patients with this histologic variant are characterized by a lack of BCL2 rearrangement in conjunction with a Ki-67 proliferation index greater than 30% and a localized stage I presentation.[33]

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 can be performed, if feasible.[34] Documentation of conversion to a more aggressive histology requires an appropriate change to a therapy applicable to that histologic type.[35] Rapid growth or discordant growth between various disease sites may indicate a histologic conversion.[34] The risk of histologic transformation was 30% by 10 years in a retrospective review of 325 patients from diagnosis between 1972 and 1999.[36] In this series, high-risk factors for subsequent histologic transformation were advanced stage, high-risk FLIPI, and expectant management (as opposed to treatment being initiated at diagnosis). The 5-year OS rate was more than 50% for patients who had biopsy-proven, aggressive-histology transformation in several multicenter cohort studies employing rituximab plus anthracycline or platinum-based chemotherapy, or similar therapy followed by autologous or allogeneic SCT.[34,37,38]

In a prospective nonrandomized study, at a median follow-up of 6.8 years, 379 (14%) of 2,652 patients subsequently transformed to a more aggressive histology after an initial diagnosis of follicular lymphoma.[39][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] The median OS after subsequent transformation was 5 years; however, among 47 patients with evidence of transformation in conjunction with follicular lymphoma at the time of initial diagnosis, the OS was no worse than that of the other nontransformed patients (5-year OS rate, 88%; 95% CI, 74%–95%).

Lymphoplasmacytic Lymphoma (Waldenström Macroglobulinemia)

Lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma is usually associated with a monoclonal serum paraprotein of immunoglobulin M (IgM) type (Waldenström macroglobulinemia).[40] Most patients have bone marrow, lymph node, and splenic involvement, and some patients may develop hyperviscosity syndrome. Most patients with Waldenström macroglobulinemia carry the MYD88 mutation, which some pathologists consider pathognomonic for the disease.[41] Other lymphomas may also be associated with serum paraproteins. Patients with lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma should be checked for associated hepatitis C virus infection.

Asymptomatic patients can be monitored for evidence of disease progression without immediate need for chemotherapy.[9,42,43]

Prognostic factors associated with symptoms requiring therapy include the following:

  • Age 70 years or older.
  • Beta-2-microglobulin of 3 mg/dL or more.
  • Increased serum LDH.[42]

Therapeutic approaches

The management of lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma is similar to that of other low-grade lymphomas, especially diffuse, small lymphocytic lymphoma/chronic lymphocytic leukemia.[44,45] If the viscosity relative to water is greater than four, the patient may have manifestations of hyperviscosity. Plasmapheresis is useful for temporary, acute symptoms (such as retinopathy, congestive heart failure, and central nervous system [CNS] dysfunction) but can be combined with chemotherapy for prolonged control of the disease. Symptomatic patients with a serum viscosity of not more than four are usually started directly on chemotherapy. Therapy may be required to correct hemolytic anemia in patients with chronic cold agglutinin disease; rituximab, cyclophosphamide, and steroids are often employed.[43] Occasionally, a heated room is required for patients whose cold agglutinins become activated by even minor chilling.

First-line regimens include rituximab and ibrutinib (a Bruton tyrosine kinase inhibitor), rituximab alone, the nucleoside analogs, and alkylating agents, either as single agents or as part of combination chemotherapy.[46,47,48,49,50] In a randomized prospective trial, 150 symptomatic patients (including previously untreated and relapsing patients) received either ibrutinib and rituximab or rituximab and a placebo. With a median follow-up of 2.5 years, the PFS rate favored the ibrutinib-and-rituximab arm (82%) versus the rituximab-and-placebo arm (28%) (hazard ratio, 0.20; 95% CI, 0.11–0.38; P < .001), and the OS rate at 30 months was no different in the two arms (92%–94%).[50][Level of evidence: 1iDiii] A phase II trial of 30 patients studied single-agent ibrutinib in previously untreated Waldenström macroglobulinemia patients. With a median follow-up of 15 months, the objective response rate was 83%, and the 18-month PFS rate was 92% (95% CI, 73%–98%).[51][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Zanubrutinib, another Bruton tyrosine kinase inhibitor, was compared with ibrutinib in a randomized prospective clinical trial of 164 patients with relapsed disease and 38 previously untreated patients.[52] With a median follow-up of 18 months, the PFS rate was the same in both groups at 84%. The zanubrutinib group had fewer cases of atrial fibrillation (11 cases vs. 1 case) and 50% fewer cases of hypertension (statistics not provided).[52][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv]

Rituximab showed 60% to 80% response rates in previously untreated patients, but close monitoring of the serum IgM is required because of a sudden rise in this paraprotein at the start of therapy.[46,53,54][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] The rise of IgM after rituximab can be avoided with the concomitant use of an alkylating agent, such as cyclophosphamide or the proteosome inhibitor bortezomib.[43,55,56] A combination of bortezomib, dexamethasone, and rituximab has been used with avoidance of an IgM rebound.[57,58,59] The nucleoside analogs 2-chlorodeoxyadenosine and fludarabine have shown similar response rates for previously untreated patients with lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma.[49,60,61][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Single-agent alkylators, bendamustine, bortezomib, and combination chemotherapy with or without rituximab also show similar response rates.[49,55,62,63,64,65][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] In the rare case of lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma involving the CNS (Bing-Neel syndrome), ibrutinib resulted in an 85% response rate in an anecdotal series of 28 patients.[66][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv]

Myeloablative therapy with autologous or allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell support is under clinical evaluation.[67,68,69,70] Candidates for this approach should avoid long-term use of alkylating agents or purine nucleoside analogs, which can deplete hematopoietic stem cells or predispose patients to myelodysplasia or acute leukemia.[46,71] After relapse from alkylating-agent therapy, 92 patients with lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma were randomly assigned to either fludarabine or cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and prednisone. Although relapse-free survival favored fludarabine (median duration of 19 months vs. 3 months, P < .01), no difference was observed in OS.[72][Level of evidence: 1iiDii]

Marginal Zone Lymphoma

Marginal zone lymphomas were previously included among the diffuse, small lymphocytic lymphomas. When marginal zone lymphomas involve the nodes, they are called monocytoid B-cell lymphomas or nodal marginal zone B-cell lymphomas, and when they involve extranodal sites (e.g., gastrointestinal tract, thyroid, lung, breast, orbit, and skin), they are called mucosa-associated lymphatic tissue (MALT) lymphomas.[73,74] A prognostic index for all of the marginal zone lymphomas has three adverse prognostic factors: age 70 years or older, stage III or stage IV disease, and high LDH level.[75] Fewer than 10% of patients transform to a higher-grade lymphoma; risk factors in one retrospective review included elevated LDH, more than four nodal sites at the time of initial diagnosis of marginal zone lymphoma, and failure to achieve complete response after initial treatment.[76]

Gastric MALT

Many patients have a history of autoimmune disease, such as Hashimoto thyroiditis or Sjögren syndrome, or of Helicobacter gastritis. Most patients present with stage I or stage II extranodal disease, which is most often in the stomach. Treatment of Helicobacter pylori infection may resolve most cases of localized gastric involvement.[77,78] After standard antibiotic regimens, 50% of patients show resolution of gastric MALT by endoscopy after 3 months. Other patients may show resolution after 12 to 18 months of observation. Of the patients who attain complete remission, 30% demonstrate monoclonality by immunoglobulin heavy chain rearrangement on stomach biopsies with a 5-year median follow-up.[79] The clinical implication of this finding is unknown. Translocation t(11;18) in patients with gastric MALT predicts for poor response to antibiotic therapy, for H. pylori –negative testing, and for poor response to oral alkylator chemotherapy.[80,81,82] Stable asymptomatic patients with persistently positive biopsies have been successfully followed on a watchful waiting approach until disease progression.[78] Patients who progress are treated with radiation therapy,[83,84,85,86] rituximab,[87] surgery (total gastrectomy or partial gastrectomy plus radiation therapy),[88] chemotherapy,[89] or combined-modality therapy.[90] The use of endoscopic ultrasonography may help clinicians to follow responses in these patients.[91] Four case series encompassing more than 100 patients with stage IE or IIE diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) with or without associated MALT (but H. pylori -positive) reported durable complete remissions in more than 50% of the patients after treatment of H. pylori.[92,93,94,95]

Extragastric MALT

Localized involvement of other sites can be treated with radiation or surgery.[84,85,86,96,97,98,99] Patients with extragastric MALT lymphoma have a higher relapse rate than patients with gastric MALT lymphoma in some series, with relapses many years and even decades later.[100] Many of these recurrences involve different MALT sites than the original location.[101] When disseminated to lymph nodes, bone marrow, or blood, this entity behaves like other low-grade lymphomas.[102,103] A prospective, randomized trial of 401 patients with nongastric, extranodal MALT compared chlorambucil alone versus rituximab plus chlorambucil versus rituximab alone.[104] With a median follow-up of 7.4 years, the event-free survival was better for the rituximab-plus-chlorambucil arm (68%) than for the rituximab-alone arm (51%) and for the chlorambucil-alone arm (50%) (P = .0009); however, the 5-year OS rate was 90% in all arms.[104] For patients with ocular adnexal MALT, antibiotic therapy using doxycycline that targeted Chlamydia psittaci resulted in durable remissions for almost half of the patients in a review of the literature that included 131 patients.[105][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] These responses to doxycycline are mainly seen in Italian trials and less often in trials conducted in other geographic sites.[106] Large B-cell lymphomas of MALT sites are classified and treated as diffuse large cell lymphomas.[107] A large, retrospective review of primary ocular adnexal MALT found that after 10 years of follow-up, 4% of stage I patients treated with radiation therapy transformed to DLBCL, and 3% of them developed CNS involvement.[108]

Nodal marginal zone lymphoma

Patients with nodal marginal zone lymphoma (monocytoid B-cell lymphoma) are treated with the same paradigm of watchful waiting or therapies as described for follicular lymphoma.[109] Similar to follicular lymphoma, patients with POD24 who required initiation of therapy had a worse prognosis (53% 3-year OS rate) than did the patients without POD24 (95% 3-year OS rate).[110] Among patients with concomitant HCV infection, the majority attain a complete or partial remission after loss of detectable HCV RNA with treatment using interferon-alpha with or without ribavirin.[111][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv]

Mediterranean abdominal lymphoma

The disease variously known as Mediterranean abdominal lymphoma, heavy–chain disease, or immunoproliferative small intestinal disease (IPSID), which occurs in young adults in eastern Mediterranean countries, is another version of MALT lymphoma, which responds to antibiotics in its early stages.[112]Campylobacter jejuni has been identified as one of the bacterial species associated with IPSID, and antibiotic therapy may result in remission of the disease.[113]

Splenic marginal zone lymphoma

Splenic marginal zone lymphoma is an indolent lymphoma that is marked by massive splenomegaly and peripheral blood and bone marrow involvement, usually without adenopathy.[114,115] This type of lymphoma is otherwise known as splenic lymphoma with villous lymphocytes. Splenectomy may result in prolonged remission.[73,116]

Management is similar to that of other low-grade lymphomas and usually involves rituximab alone or rituximab in combination with purine analogs or alkylating agent chemotherapy.[117] Splenic marginal zone lymphoma responds less well to chemotherapy, which would ordinarily be effective for chronic lymphocytic leukemia.[114,117,118] Among small numbers of patients with splenic marginal zone lymphoma (splenic lymphoma with villous lymphocytes) and infection with HCV, the majority attained a complete or partial remission after loss of detectable HCV RNA with treatment using interferon-alpha with or without ribavirin.[111,119]; [120][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] In contrast, no responses to interferon were seen in six HCV-negative patients.

Primary Cutaneous Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma

Primary cutaneous anaplastic large cell lymphoma presents in the skin only with no pre-existing lymphoproliferative disease and no extracutaneous sites of involvement.[121,122,123] Patients with this type of lymphoma encompass a spectrum ranging from clinically benign lymphomatoid papulosis, marked by localized nodules that may regress spontaneously, to a progressive and systemic disease requiring aggressive doxorubicin-based combination chemotherapy. This spectrum has been called the primary cutaneous CD30-positive T-cell lymphoproliferative disorder.

Patients with localized disease usually undergo radiation therapy. With more disseminated involvement, watchful waiting or doxorubicin-based combination chemotherapy is applied.[121,122,123]

(Refer to the PDQ summaries on Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Treatment; Mycosis Fungoides [Including Sézary Syndrome] Treatment; Hairy Cell Leukemia Treatment; and Adult Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment for more information.)


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  91. Pavlick AC, Gerdes H, Portlock CS: Endoscopic ultrasound in the evaluation of gastric small lymphocytic mucosa-associated lymphoid tumors. J Clin Oncol 15 (5): 1761-6, 1997.
  92. Morgner A, Miehlke S, Fischbach W, et al.: Complete remission of primary high-grade B-cell gastric lymphoma after cure of Helicobacter pylori infection. J Clin Oncol 19 (7): 2041-8, 2001.
  93. Chen LT, Lin JT, Shyu RY, et al.: Prospective study of Helicobacter pylori eradication therapy in stage I(E) high-grade mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue lymphoma of the stomach. J Clin Oncol 19 (22): 4245-51, 2001.
  94. Chen LT, Lin JT, Tai JJ, et al.: Long-term results of anti-Helicobacter pylori therapy in early-stage gastric high-grade transformed MALT lymphoma. J Natl Cancer Inst 97 (18): 1345-53, 2005.
  95. Kuo SH, Yeh KH, Wu MS, et al.: Helicobacter pylori eradication therapy is effective in the treatment of early-stage H pylori-positive gastric diffuse large B-cell lymphomas. Blood 119 (21): 4838-44; quiz 5057, 2012.
  96. Uno T, Isobe K, Shikama N, et al.: Radiotherapy for extranodal, marginal zone, B-cell lymphoma of mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue originating in the ocular adnexa: a multiinstitutional, retrospective review of 50 patients. Cancer 98 (4): 865-71, 2003.
  97. Bayraktar S, Bayraktar UD, Stefanovic A, et al.: Primary ocular adnexal mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue lymphoma (MALT): single institution experience in a large cohort of patients. Br J Haematol 152 (1): 72-80, 2011.
  98. Stefanovic A, Lossos IS: Extranodal marginal zone lymphoma of the ocular adnexa. Blood 114 (3): 501-10, 2009.
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  100. Raderer M, Streubel B, Woehrer S, et al.: High relapse rate in patients with MALT lymphoma warrants lifelong follow-up. Clin Cancer Res 11 (9): 3349-52, 2005.
  101. Sretenovic M, Colovic M, Jankovic G, et al.: More than a third of non-gastric malt lymphomas are disseminated at diagnosis: a single center survey. Eur J Haematol 82 (5): 373-80, 2009.
  102. Nathwani BN, Drachenberg MR, Hernandez AM, et al.: Nodal monocytoid B-cell lymphoma (nodal marginal-zone B-cell lymphoma). Semin Hematol 36 (2): 128-38, 1999.
  103. Raderer M, Wöhrer S, Streubel B, et al.: Assessment of disease dissemination in gastric compared with extragastric mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue lymphoma using extensive staging: a single-center experience. J Clin Oncol 24 (19): 3136-41, 2006.
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  107. Kuo SH, Chen LT, Yeh KH, et al.: Nuclear expression of BCL10 or nuclear factor kappa B predicts Helicobacter pylori-independent status of early-stage, high-grade gastric mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue lymphomas. J Clin Oncol 22 (17): 3491-7, 2004.
  108. Desai A, Joag MG, Lekakis L, et al.: Long-term course of patients with primary ocular adnexal MALT lymphoma: a large single-institution cohort study. Blood 129 (3): 324-332, 2017.
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  111. Vallisa D, Bernuzzi P, Arcaini L, et al.: Role of anti-hepatitis C virus (HCV) treatment in HCV-related, low-grade, B-cell, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma: a multicenter Italian experience. J Clin Oncol 23 (3): 468-73, 2005.
  112. Isaacson PG: Gastrointestinal lymphoma. Hum Pathol 25 (10): 1020-9, 1994.
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  114. Arcaini L, Paulli M, Boveri E, et al.: Splenic and nodal marginal zone lymphomas are indolent disorders at high hepatitis C virus seroprevalence with distinct presenting features but similar morphologic and phenotypic profiles. Cancer 100 (1): 107-15, 2004.
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  116. Parry-Jones N, Matutes E, Gruszka-Westwood AM, et al.: Prognostic features of splenic lymphoma with villous lymphocytes: a report on 129 patients. Br J Haematol 120 (5): 759-64, 2003.
  117. Arcaini L, Lazzarino M, Colombo N, et al.: Splenic marginal zone lymphoma: a prognostic model for clinical use. Blood 107 (12): 4643-9, 2006.
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  119. Hermine O, Lefrère F, Bronowicki JP, et al.: Regression of splenic lymphoma with villous lymphocytes after treatment of hepatitis C virus infection. N Engl J Med 347 (2): 89-94, 2002.
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  121. de Bruin PC, Beljaards RC, van Heerde P, et al.: Differences in clinical behaviour and immunophenotype between primary cutaneous and primary nodal anaplastic large cell lymphoma of T-cell or null cell phenotype. Histopathology 23 (2): 127-35, 1993.
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  123. Kempf W, Pfaltz K, Vermeer MH, et al.: EORTC, ISCL, and USCLC consensus recommendations for the treatment of primary cutaneous CD30-positive lymphoproliferative disorders: lymphomatoid papulosis and primary cutaneous anaplastic large-cell lymphoma. Blood 118 (15): 4024-35, 2011.

Aggressive NHL

Aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) includes the following subtypes:

  • Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
  • Mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma (primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma).
  • Follicular large cell lymphoma.
  • Anaplastic large cell lymphoma.
  • Extranodal NK–/T-cell lymphoma.
  • Lymphomatoid granulomatosis.
  • Angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma.
  • Peripheral T-cell lymphoma.
  • Enteropathy-type intestinal T-cell lymphoma.
  • Intravascular large B-cell lymphoma (intravascular lymphomatosis).
  • Burkitt lymphoma/diffuse small noncleaved-cell lymphoma.
  • Lymphoblastic lymphoma.
  • Adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma.
  • Mantle cell lymphoma.
  • Polymorphic posttransplantation lymphoproliferative disorder.
  • True histiocytic lymphoma.
  • Primary effusion lymphoma.
  • Plasmablastic lymphoma.

Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma

Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) is the most common type of NHL and comprises 30% of newly diagnosed cases.[1] Most patients present with rapidly enlarging masses, often with both local and systemic symptoms (designated B symptoms with fever, recurrent night sweats, or weight loss). (Refer to the PDQ summary on Nutrition in Cancer Care for more information on weight loss.)

Some cases of large B-cell lymphoma have a prominent background of reactive T cells and often of histiocytes, so-called T-cell/histiocyte-rich large B-cell lymphoma. This subtype of large cell lymphoma has frequent liver, spleen, and bone marrow involvement; however, the outcome is equivalent to that of similarly staged patients with DLBCL.[2,3,4] Some patients with DLBCL at diagnosis have a concomitant indolent small B-cell component; while overall survival (OS) appears similar after multidrug chemotherapy, there is a higher risk of indolent relapse.[5]


Most patients with localized disease are curable with combined-modality therapy or combination chemotherapy alone.[6] For patients with advanced-stage disease, 50% of presenting patients are cured with doxorubicin-based combination chemotherapy and rituximab.[7,8,9]

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network International Prognostic Index (IPI) for aggressive NHL (diffuse large cell lymphoma) identifies the following five significant risk factors prognostic of OS and their associated risk scores:[10]

  • Age.
    • <40 years: 0.
    • 41–60 years: 1.
    • 61–75 years: 2.
    • >75 years: 3.
  • Stage III/IV: 1.
  • Performance status 2/3/4: 1.
  • Serum lactate dehydrogenase (LDH).
    • Normalized: 0.
    • >1x–3x: 1.
    • >3x: 2.
  • Number of extranodal sites ≥2: 1.

Risk scores:

  • Low (0 or 1): 5-year OS rate, 96%; progression-free survival (PFS) rate, 91%.
  • Low intermediate (2 or 3): 5-year OS rate, 82%; PFS rate, 74%.
  • High intermediate (4 or 5): 5-year OS rate, 64%; PFS rate, 51%.
  • High (>6): 5-year OS rate, 33%; PFS rate, 30%.

Age-adjusted and stage-adjusted modifications of this IPI are used for younger patients with localized disease.[11] Shorter intervals of time between diagnosis and treatment appear to be a surrogate for poor prognostic biological factors.[12]

The BCL2 gene and rearrangement of the MYC gene or dual overexpression of the MYC gene, or both, confer a particularly poor prognosis.[13,14,15] Dose-intensive therapies, infusional therapies, and stem cell transplantation (SCT) consolidation are being explored in this high-risk group.[16,17] A retrospective review evaluated 159 patients with previously untreated DLBCL who underwent double-hit genetic testing by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and achieved complete response (CR).[18] The induction therapy did not alter 3-year relapse-free survival or OS when autologous SCT was employed.

In a retrospective review of 117 patients with relapsed or refractory DLBCL who underwent autologous SCT, the 4-year OS rate was 25% for double-hit lymphomas (rearrangement of BCL2 and MYC), 61% for double-expressor lymphomas (no rearrangement, but increased expression of BCL2 and MYC), and 70% for patients without these features.[19] Patients at high risk of relapse may be considered for clinical trials.[20]

Molecular profiles of gene expression using DNA microarrays may help to stratify patients in the future for therapies directed at specific targets and to better predict survival after standard chemotherapy.[21] Patients who have DLBCL with coexpression of CD20 and CD30 may define a subgroup with a unique molecular signature, a more favorable prognosis, and possible therapeutic implication for the use of anti-CD30–specific therapy, such as brentuximab vedotin.[22] Patients with DLBCL who are event-free after 2 years have a subsequent OS equivalent to that of the age- and sex-matched general population.[23]

Central nervous system (CNS) prophylaxis

The CNS-IPI tool predicts which patients have a CNS relapse risk exceeding 10%. It was developed by the German Lymphoma Study Group and validated by the British Columbia Cancer Agency database. The presence of four to six of the CNS-IPI risk factors (age >60 years, performance status ≥2, elevated LDH, stage III or IV disease, >1 extranodal site, or involvement of the kidneys or adrenal glands) was used to define a high-risk group for CNS recurrence (a 12% risk of CNS involvement by 2 years).[24]

CNS prophylaxis (usually with four to six doses of intrathecal methotrexate) is often recommended for patients with testicular involvement.[25,26,27][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] A retrospective analysis of the German RICOVER studies compared intrathecal methotrexate with no prophylaxis in patients with DLBCL. This study was completed during the R-CHOP (rituximab, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, and prednisone) treatment era. With the possible exception of patients with testicular involvement, the analysis showed that intrathecal methotrexate did not reduce the risk of CNS disease.[28][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Some clinicians employ high-dose intravenous methotrexate (usually four doses) as an alternative to intrathecal therapy because drug delivery is improved and patient morbidity is decreased.[29] Two retrospective studies evaluating high-dose methotrexate in patients with high-risk DLBCL also showed no improvement in CNS relapse rate.[30,31][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Patients deemed at high risk for CNS relapse (e.g., patients with four to six CNS-IPI risk factors) often receive intrathecal methotrexate or high-dose intravenous methotrexate, but the lack of confirmatory randomized studies calls this standard into question and shows an urgent need for better therapeutics verified in clinical trials. Patients with testicular involvement are an exception, as they show benefit from intrathecal or high-dose intravenous methotrexate.[25,26,27][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv]

The addition of rituximab to cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, prednisone (CHOP)-based regimens has significantly reduced the risk of CNS relapse in retrospective analyses.[28,32][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Patients with CNS dissemination at diagnosis or at relapse usually receive rituximab and high doses of methotrexate and/or cytarabine followed by autologous SCT, but this approach has not been assessed in randomized trials.[33,34][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv]

Primary Mediastinal Large B-cell Lymphoma

Primary mediastinal (thymic) large B-cell lymphoma is a subset of DLBCL with molecular characteristics that are most similar to nodular-sclerosing Hodgkin lymphoma (HL). Mediastinal lymphomas with features intermediate between primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma and nodular-sclerosing HL are called mediastinal gray-zone lymphomas.[35,36] Patients are usually female and young (median age, 30–40 years). Patients present with a locally invasive anterior mediastinal mass that may cause respiratory symptoms or superior vena cava syndrome.

Prognosis and therapy are the same as for other comparably staged patients with DLBCL. Uncontrolled, phase II studies employing dose-adjusted EPOCH (etoposide, prednisone, vincristine, cyclophosphamide, and doxorubicin) plus rituximab or R-CHOP show high cure rates while avoiding any mediastinal radiation.[36,37,38,39,40][Level of evidence: 3iiiA] These results suggest that patients who receive R-CHOP–based regimens may avoid the serious long-term complications of radiation therapy when given with chemotherapy. Posttreatment fluorine F 18-fludeoxyglucose (18F-FDG) positron emission tomography–computed tomography (PET-CT) scans are controversial; it remains unclear if PET scans can reliably identify patients who can take or omit radiation therapy consolidation.[37,41,42,43] The only randomized trial showing an OS advantage for combined-modality therapy was retracted. In situations where mediastinal radiation would encompass the left side of the heart or would increase breast cancer risk in young female patients, proton therapy may be considered to reduce radiation dose to organs at risk.[44] (Refer to the Superior Vena Cava Syndrome section in the PDQ summary on Cardiopulmonary Syndromes for more information.)

Because primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma is characterized by high expression of programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) and variable expression of CD30, a phase II study evaluated nivolumab plus brentuximab vedotin in 30 patients with relapsed disease. With a median follow-up of 11.1 months, the objective response rate (ORR) was 73% (95% CI, 54%−88%).[45][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Similarly, phase I and II trials of pembrolizumab in 74 patients with relapsed or refractory disease showed an ORR of 45% to 48%. The median duration of response was not reached for the 21 patients with a median follow-up of 29 months or for the 53 patients with a median follow-up of 12.5 months.[46][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv]

Follicular Large Cell Lymphoma


The natural history of follicular large cell lymphoma remains controversial.[47] While there is agreement about the significant number of long-term disease-free survivors with early-stage disease, the curability of patients with advanced disease (stage III or stage IV) remains uncertain. Some groups report a continuous relapse rate similar to the other follicular lymphomas (a pattern of indolent lymphoma).[48] Other investigators report a plateau in freedom from progression at levels expected for an aggressive lymphoma (40% at 10 years).[49,50] This discrepancy may be caused by variations in histologic classification between institutions and the rarity of patients with follicular large cell lymphoma. A retrospective review of 252 patients, all treated with anthracycline-containing combination chemotherapy, showed that patients with more than 50% diffuse components on biopsy had a worse OS than other patients with follicular large cell lymphoma.[51]

Therapeutic approaches

Treatment of follicular large cell lymphoma is more similar to treatment of aggressive NHL than it is to the treatment of indolent NHL. In support of this approach, treatment with high-dose chemotherapy and autologous hematopoietic peripheral SCT shows the same curative potential in patients with follicular large cell lymphoma who relapse as it does in patients with diffuse large cell lymphoma who relapse.[52][Level of evidence: 3iiiA]

Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma

Anaplastic large cell lymphomas (ALCL) may be confused with carcinomas and are associated with the Ki-1 (CD30) antigen. These lymphomas are usually of T-cell origin, often present with extranodal disease, and are found especially in the skin.[53]

The translocation of chromosomes 2 and 5 creates a unique fusion protein with a nucleophosmin-anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK).[53,54]

Patients whose lymphomas express ALK (immunohistochemistry) are usually younger and may have systemic symptoms, extranodal disease, and advanced-stage disease; however, they have a more favorable survival rate than that of ALK-negative patients.[55,56]

In a prospective randomized trial of 452 patients with CD30-positive T-cell lymphoma, 70% of whom had ALCL (22% ALK-positive and 48% ALK-negative patients), the previously used standard regimen, CHOP, was compared with brentuximab vedotin (an anti-CD30 monoclonal antibody conjugated to a cytotoxic agent) combined with cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and prednisone.[57] With a median follow-up of 35 months, the brentuximab combination (3-year OS rate, 77%) showed an OS advantage over CHOP (3-year OS rate, 68%); (hazard ratio [HR], 0.66; 95% CI, 0.46–0.95; P = .02).[57][Level of evidence: 1iiA] This established brentuximab plus cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and prednisone as a new option for patients with ALCL and other CD30-positive T-cell lymphomas, such as angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma and peripheral T-cell lymphoma, not otherwise specified. For patients with relapsed disease, anecdotal responses have been reported for brentuximab vedotin (anti-tubulin agent attached to a CD30-specific monoclonal antibody),[58,59,60,61] romidepsin,[62] and pralatrexate.[63][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] In a phase II study (NCT00866047), 66% of 58 patients attained a CR with brentuximab vedotin. At a median follow-up of 58 months, the 5-year PFS rate was 57% (95% CI, 41%–74%), and the 5-year OS rate was 79% (95% CI, 65%–92%) with 42% of these patients undergoing hematopoietic SCT.[61][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] For patients with relapsed disease, autologous or allogeneic SCT showed a 50% 3-year PFS for 39 patients in a retrospective review.[64][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiii]

ALCL in children is usually characterized by systemic and cutaneous disease and has high response rates and good OS with doxorubicin-based combination chemotherapy.[65] Patients with breast implant–associated ALCL may do well without chemotherapy after capsulectomy and implant removal if the disease is confined to the fibrous capsule, and no associated mass or lymphadenopathy is present.[66,67,68,69]

Extranodal Natural Killer (NK)-/T-cell Lymphoma

Extranodal natural killer (NK)-/T-cell lymphoma (nasal type) is an aggressive lymphoma marked by extensive necrosis and angioinvasion, most often presenting in extranodal sites, in particular the nasal or paranasal sinus region.[70] Other extranodal sites include the palate, trachea, skin, and gastrointestinal tract. Hemophagocytic syndrome may occur; historically, these tumors were considered part of lethal midline granuloma.[71] In most cases, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) genomes are detectable in the tumor cells and immunophenotyping shows CD56 positivity. Cases with blood and marrow involvement are considered NK-cell leukemia.

The increased risk of CNS involvement and of local recurrence has led to recommendations for radiation therapy locally, concurrently, before the start of chemotherapy or between cycle two and three of chemotherapy, and for intrathecal prophylaxis and/or prophylactic cranial radiation therapy.[72,73,74,75,76,77,78,79]

A retrospective review of 1,273 early-stage patients stratified them into a low-risk group and high-risk group using stage, age, LDH, performance status, and primary tumor invasion. Low-risk patients fared best with radiation therapy alone,[80] while high-risk patients fared best with a strategy of radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy.[78,81,82]

In a retrospective review of 303 previously untreated patients from an international consortium who received nonanthracycline chemotherapy, the OS rates were identical for early-stage patients (72%−74% at 5 years) who received either concurrent chemotherapy and radiation therapy or chemotherapy followed by radiation therapy.[83][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv]

Higher doses of radiation therapy administered at more than 50 Gy are associated with improved outcomes according to anecdotal reports.[78] The highly aggressive course, with poor response and short survival with standard therapies, especially for patients with advanced-stage disease or extranasal presentation, has led some investigators to recommend autologous or allogeneic peripheral SCT consolidation.[79,84,85,86,87,88] L-asparaginase-containing regimens have shown anecdotal response rates greater than 50% for relapsing, refractory, or newly diagnosed patients.[79,89,90,91] NK-/T-cell lymphoma that presents only in the skin has a more favorable prognosis, especially in patients with coexpression of CD30 with CD56.[92] A benign NK-cell enteropathy (EBV negative) on endoscopic biopsy can be distinguished from NK-/T-cell lymphoma.[93]

Lymphomatoid Granulomatosis

Lymphomatoid granulomatosis is an EBV-positive large B-cell lymphoma with a predominant T-cell background.[94,95] The histology shows association with angioinvasion and vasculitis, usually manifesting as pulmonary lesions or paranasal sinus involvement.

Patients are managed like others with diffuse large cell lymphoma and require doxorubicin-based combination chemotherapy.

Angioimmunoblastic T-cell Lymphoma

Angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL or ATCL) was formerly called angioimmunoblastic lymphadenopathy with dysproteinemia. Characterized by clonal T-cell receptor gene rearrangement, this entity is managed like diffuse large cell lymphoma.[96,97,98,99] Patients present with profound lymphadenopathy, fever, night sweats, weight loss, skin rash, a positive Coombs test, and polyclonal hypergammaglobulinemia.[71] (Refer to the information on weight loss in the PDQ summary on Nutrition in Cancer Care and the information on skin rash in the PDQ summary on Pruritus.) Opportunistic infections are frequent because of an underlying immune deficiency. B-cell EBV genomes are detected in most affected patients.[100]

Doxorubicin-based combination chemotherapy, such as the CHOP regimen, is recommended as it is for other aggressive lymphomas.[96,99] For CD30-positive cases, brentuximab combined with cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and prednisone is the standard of care.[57][Level of evidence: 1iiD] (Refer to the Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma section of this summary for more information.) The International Peripheral T-Cell Lymphoma Project involving 22 international centers identified 243 patients with AITL or ATCL; the 5-year OS and failure-free survival rates were 33% and 18%, respectively.[101] Myeloablative chemotherapy and radiation therapy with autologous or allogeneic peripheral stem cell support has been described in anecdotal reports.[87,102,103,104] Anecdotal responses have been reported for cyclosporine,[105] pralatrexate,[106] bendamustine,[107] the histone deacetylase inhibitor romidepsin, and brentuximab vedotin (even if there is little or no CD30 expression on the lymphoma).[62,108][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Occasional spontaneous remissions and protracted responses to steroids only have been reported.

Peripheral T-cell Lymphoma

Patients with peripheral T-cell lymphoma have diffuse large cell or diffuse mixed lymphoma that expresses a cell surface phenotype of a postthymic (or peripheral) T-cell expressing CD4 or CD8 but not both together.[109] Peripheral T-cell lymphoma encompasses a group of heterogeneous nodal T-cell lymphomas that will require future delineation.[71,110] This includes the so-called Lennert lymphoma, a T-cell lymphoma admixed with a preponderance of lymphoepithelioid cells.


Most investigators report worse response and survival rates for patients with peripheral T-cell lymphomas than for patients with comparably staged B-cell aggressive lymphomas.[110,111] Most patients present with multiple adverse prognostic factors (i.e., older age, stage IV, multiple extranodal sites, and elevated LDH), and these patients have a low (<20%) failure-free survival and OS at 5 years.[110,111] As with other lymphomas (e.g., DLBCL or follicular lymphoma), event-free survival at 24 months predicts a 5-year OS of 78%.[112]

Therapeutic approaches

Therapy involves doxorubicin-based combination chemotherapy (such as CHOP or CHOPE [CHOP plus etoposide]), which is also used for DLBCL.[113] For CD30-positive cases, brentuximab combined with cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and prednisone is the standard of care.[57][Level of evidence: 1iiD] (Refer to the Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma section of this summary for more information.) For patients with early-stage disease, anecdotal retrospective series disagree on the value of consolidative radiation therapy after combination chemotherapy.[114][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Consolidation using high-dose chemotherapy with autologous or allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell support has been applied to patients with advanced-stage peripheral T-cell lymphoma after induction therapy with CHOP-based regimens and after response to reinduction therapy at first relapse. Evidence for this approach is anecdotal.[87,102,104,115,116,117] For relapsing patients, pralatrexate has shown a 30% response rate and a median 10-month duration of response for 109 evaluable patients in a prospective trial.[62,118][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Also for relapsing patients, similar response rates were seen for romidepsin for 130 evaluable patients in a prospective trial.[62][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Anecdotal responses have been seen with a combination of pralatrexate and romidepsin,[106] single-agent bendamustine,[107] belinostat,[119] and brentuximab vedotin (even if there is little or no CD30 expression on the lymphoma).[108][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Incorporation of these new agents with CHOP chemotherapy is under clinical evaluation.[57,110] Anecdotal responses have also been seen with alemtuzumab, an anti-CD52 monoclonal antibody, after relapse from previous chemotherapy.[120] The median PFS after first relapse was less than 6 months in one series of 163 patients with peripheral T-cell lymphoma.[121]

An unusual type of peripheral T-cell lymphoma occurring mostly in young men, hepatosplenic T-cell lymphoma, appears to be localized to the hepatic and splenic sinusoids, with cell surface expression of the T-cell receptor gamma/delta.[122,123,124] Another variant, subcutaneous panniculitis-like T-cell lymphoma, is localized to subcutaneous tissue associated with hemophagocytic syndrome.[125,126,127,128] These patients have cells that express alpha-beta phenotype. Those with gamma-delta phenotype have a more aggressive clinical course and are classified as cutaneous gamma-delta T-cell lymphoma.[129,130,131] These patients may manifest involvement of the epidermis, dermis, subcutaneous region, or mucosa. These entities have extremely poor prognoses with an extremely aggressive clinical course and are treated within the same paradigm as the highest-risk groups with DLBCL.[87,124] An indolent T-cell lymphoproliferative disease of the gastrointestinal tract must be distinguished from peripheral T-cell lymphoma because no therapy may be indicated.[132]

Enteropathy-type Intestinal T-cell Lymphoma

Enteropathy-type intestinal T-cell lymphoma involves the small bowel of patients with gluten-sensitive enteropathy (celiac sprue).[71,133,134,135] Because a gluten-free diet prevents the development of lymphoma, patients diagnosed with celiac sprue in childhood rarely develop lymphoma. The diagnosis of celiac disease is usually made by finding villous atrophy in the resected intestine. Surgery is often required for diagnosis and to avoid perforation during therapy.

Therapy is with doxorubicin-based combination chemotherapy, but relapse rates appear higher than for comparably staged diffuse large cell lymphoma.[134,135,136] Complications of treatment include gastrointestinal bleeding, small bowel perforation, and enterocolic fistulae; patients often require parenteral nutrition. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Nutrition in Cancer Care for more information on parenteral nutrition.) Multifocal intestinal perforations and visceral abdominal involvement are seen at the time of relapse. High-dose therapy with hematopoietic stem cell rescue has been applied in first remission or at relapse.[87,134,137][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiii] Evidence for this approach is anecdotal.

Intravascular Large B-cell Lymphoma (Intravascular Lymphomatosis)

Intravascular lymphomatosis is characterized by large cell lymphoma confined to the intravascular lumen. The brain, kidneys, lungs, and skin are the organs most likely affected by intravascular lymphomatosis.

With the use of aggressive R-CHOP–based combination chemotherapy, as is used in DLBCL, the prognosis is similar to that of conventional stage IV DLBCL.[138,139,140]

Burkitt Lymphoma/Diffuse Small Noncleaved-cell Lymphoma

Burkitt lymphoma/diffuse small noncleaved-cell lymphoma typically involves younger patients and represents the most common type of pediatric NHL.[141] These types of aggressive extranodal B-cell lymphomas are characterized by translocation and deregulation of the MYC gene on chromosome 8.[142] A subgroup of patients with dual translocation of MYC and BCL2 appear to have an extremely poor outcome despite aggressive therapy (5-month OS).[143][Level of evidence: 3iiiA]

In some patients with larger B cells, there is morphologic overlap with DLBCL. These Burkitt-like large cell lymphomas show MYC deregulation, extremely high proliferation rates, and a gene-expression profile as expected for classic Burkitt lymphoma.[144,145,146] Endemic cases, usually from Africa, involve the facial bones or jaws of children, mostly containing EBV genomes. Sporadic cases usually involve the gastrointestinal system, ovaries, or kidneys. Patients present with rapidly growing masses and a very high LDH but are potentially curable with intensive doxorubicin-based combination chemotherapy.

Therapeutic approaches

Treatment of Burkitt lymphoma/diffuse small noncleaved-cell lymphoma involves aggressive multidrug regimens in combination with rituximab, similar to those used for the advanced-stage aggressive lymphomas (diffuse large cell).[147,148,149,150] Aggressive combination chemotherapy, which is patterned after that used in childhood Burkitt lymphoma, has been very successful for adult patients with more than 60% of advanced-stage patients free of disease at 5 years.[151,152,153,154] Adverse prognostic factors include bulky abdominal disease and high serum LDH. Patients with Burkitt lymphoma have a 20% to 30% lifetime risk of CNS involvement. Prophylaxis with intrathecal chemotherapy is required as part of induction therapy.[155] Patients with HIV-associated Burkitt lymphoma also benefit from less-toxic modification of the aggressive multidrug regimens in combination with rituximab.[156][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] (Refer to the PDQ summaries on Primary CNS Lymphoma Treatment and AIDS-Related Lymphoma Treatment for more information.)

Lymphoblastic Lymphoma

Lymphoblastic lymphoma (precursor T-cell) is a very aggressive form of NHL. It often, but not exclusively, occurs in young patients.[157] It is commonly associated with large mediastinal masses and has a high predilection for disseminating to bone marrow and the CNS.

Treatment is usually patterned after that for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Intensive combination chemotherapy with or without bone marrow transplantation is the standard treatment for this aggressive histologic type of NHL.[158,159,160] Radiation therapy is sometimes given to areas of bulky tumor masses. Because these forms of NHL tend to progress quickly, combination chemotherapy is instituted rapidly once the diagnosis has been confirmed. Careful review of the pathologic specimens, bone marrow aspirate, biopsy specimen, cerebrospinal fluid cytology, and lymphocyte marker constitute the most important aspects of the pretreatment staging workup. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment for more information.)

Adult T-cell Leukemia/Lymphoma

Adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATL) is caused by infection with the retrovirus human T-lymphotrophic virus 1 and is frequently associated with lymphadenopathy, hypercalcemia, circulating leukemic cells, bone and skin involvement, hepatosplenomegaly, a rapidly progressive course, and poor response to combination chemotherapy.[161,162] ATL has been divided into four clinical subtypes:[163,164]

  • Acute (aggressive course with leukemia, with or without extranodal or nodal involvement).
  • Lymphoma (aggressive course with lymphadenopathy and no leukemia).
  • Chronic (indolent course with leukemia and lymphadenopathy).
  • Smoldering (indolent course with only leukemia).

The acute and lymphoma types of ATL have done poorly with strategies of combination chemotherapy and allogeneic SCT with a median OS under 1 year.[165,166,167] Using combination chemotherapy, less than 10% of 807 patients were alive after 4 years.[167] Anecdotal durable remissions have been reported after allogeneic SCT and even after subsequent donor lymphocyte infusion for relapses after transplant.[168][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Among 815 patients who underwent allogeneic SCT in two retrospective reviews, the 3-year OS rates were 36% and 26%.[169,170][Level of evidence: 3iiiA]

The combination of zidovudine and interferon-alpha has activity against ATL, even for patients who failed previous cytotoxic therapy. Durable remissions are seen in the majority of presenting patients with this combination but are not seen in patients with the lymphoma subtype of ATL.[171,172,173,174,175] In a multicenter phase II study of 26 relapsed patients, 42% responded to lenalidomide (including four CR).[176][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Symptomatic local progression of all subtypes responds well to palliative radiation therapy.[177] In the relapsed setting, an ORR above 50% is seen using mogamulizumab, a humanized monoclonal antibody against the C-C chemokine receptor 4 (CCR4).[178][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] For CD30-positive cases, brentuximab combined with cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and prednisone is the standard of care.[57][Level of evidence: 1iiD] (Refer to the Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma section of this summary for more information.)

Mantle Cell Lymphoma

Mantle cell lymphoma is found in lymph nodes, the spleen, bone marrow, blood, and sometimes the gastrointestinal system (lymphomatous polyposis).[179] Mantle cell lymphoma is characterized by CD5-positive follicular mantle B cells, a translocation of chromosomes 11 and 14, and an overexpression of the cyclin D1 protein.[179] Mantle cell lymphoma may be divided into two clinical subtypes: a classical version with lymphadenopathy with high SOX-11 expression that manifests with an aggressive clinical course and a worse prognosis versus a leukemic, non-nodal version with low SOX-11 expression and a more indolent course and a better prognosis.[180] A complex karyotype predicts poor response to induction therapy and inferior survival.[181] There is frequent overlap on presentation with these subtypes, and the therapeutic implication remains unclear. However, both of these versions can converge later in their course into a blastoid phenotype or treatment-resistant phenotype due to genomic instability and selection.[182]

Like the low-grade lymphomas, mantle cell lymphoma appears incurable with anthracycline-based chemotherapy and occurs in older patients with generally asymptomatic advanced-stage disease. The median survival, however, is significantly shorter (5–7 years) than that of other lymphomas, and this histology is now considered to be an aggressive lymphoma.[183] A diffuse pattern and the blastoid variant have an aggressive course with shorter survival, while the mantle zone type may have a more indolent course.[184] A high cell-proliferation rate (increased Ki-67, mitotic index, beta-2-microglobulin) may be associated with a poorer prognosis.[185,186]

Therapeutic approaches

Asymptomatic patients with low-risk scores on the IPI may do well when initial therapy is deferred.[187,188][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] There is no standard approach to mantle cell lymphoma. Several induction chemotherapy regimens may be employed for symptomatic progressing disease. These regimens range in intensity from rituximab alone to rituximab plus bendamustine, to R-CHOP, to high-dose intensive regimens such as R-hyper C-VAD (hyperfractionated cyclophosphamide, vincristine, doxorubicin, and dexamethasone alternating with methotrexate and cytarabine). Some physicians use autologous SCT or allogeneic SCT consolidation next, while others prefer rituximab maintenance, reserving high-dose consolidation for a later time.[189] Ibrutinib, lenalidomide, and bortezomib have shown activity in relapsing patients, and these drugs are being incorporated upfront.[190,191,192,193,194]

It is unclear which therapeutic approach offers the best long-term survival in this clinicopathologic entity. In a prospective randomized trial, 560 patients older than 60 years and not eligible for SCT were given either R-CHOP or R-FC (rituximab, fludarabine, cyclophosphamide) for six to eight cycles, followed by maintenance therapy in responders randomly assigned to rituximab or interferon-alpha maintenance therapy.[195] With a median follow-up of 7.6 years, the median OS was significantly shorter after R-FC than after R-CHOP (3.9 years versus 6.4 years; P = .0054).[195][Level of evidence: 1iiA] In the same trial, with a median follow-up of 8 years for the 316 responding patients, rituximab maintenance resulted in improved OS over interferon maintenance (median OS, 9.8 years vs. 7.1 years; P = .009).[195][Level of evidence: 1iiA] Patients responsive to R-CHOP benefitted most from rituximab in OS (median 9.8 years vs. 6.4 years; P = .0026).[195][Level of evidence: 3iiA] A randomized trial compared bendamustine plus rituximab (BR) with R-CHOP and showed improved PFS (35 vs. 22 months; HR, 0.49; 95% CI, 0.28–0.79; P = .004) but no difference in OS.[196][Level of evidence: 1iiDiii] However, this trial failed to show any benefit for rituximab maintenance after BR. A prospective, randomized trial of 487 patients compared VR-CAP (bortezomib, rituximab, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, prednisone) with R-CHOP.[197] With a median follow-up of 82 months, the median OS was longer for VR-CAP (90.7 months) compared with R-CHOP (55.7 months) (HR, 0.66; 95% CI, 0.51−0.85; P = .001).[197][Level of evidence: 1iiA]

A prospective randomized trial of 497 patients younger than 65 years compared six cycles of R-CHOP to six cycles of alternating R-CHOP and R-DHAP (rituximab, dexamethasone, cytarabine, and cisplatin), with both groups then receiving autologous SCT.[198][Level of evidence: 1iiDiii] With a median follow-up of 6.1 years, the time to treatment failure (TTF) was longer in the cytarabine group, with a median TTF follow-up of 9.1 years (95% CI, 6.3 years to not reached) compared with 3.9 years (95% CI, 3.2‒4.4 years) (HR, 0.56; corrected P = .038) for the control group. Despite this surprising difference in TTF, the OS was not different.

Many investigators are exploring high-dose chemoradiation immunotherapy with stem cell/bone marrow support or nonmyeloablative allogeneic SCT.[199,200,201,202,203,204] Thus far, randomized trials have not confirmed OS benefits from these newer approaches.[200]

In a prospective trial (NCT00921414) of 299 patients who were previously untreated for mantle cell lymphoma, 257 responders received four courses of R-DHAP and autologous SCT. The patients were randomly assigned to receive rituximab maintenance therapy for 3 years versus no maintenance therapy. After randomization, a median follow-up at 50.2 months showed the rate of PFS at 4-years favored the rituximab-maintenance arm at 83% (95% CI, 73%–88%) versus the no-maintenance arm at 64% (95% CI, 55%–73%; P < .001). The 4-year OS rate also favored the rituximab-maintenance arm at 89% (95% CI, 81%–94%) versus the no-maintenance arm at 80% (95% CI, 72%–88%; P = .04).[205][Level of evidence: 1iiA]

Lenalidomide with or without rituximab also shows response rates of around 50% in relapsed patients, with even higher response rates for previously untreated patients.[191,194,206,207][Level of evidence: 3iiDiv]

The B-cell receptor-inhibitor, ibrutinib, showed a response rate of 86% (21% CR rate) in previously treated patients with a median PFS time of 14 months.[192][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] In a prospective randomized trial of 280 patients with relapsed/refractory mantle cell lymphoma, patients received either ibrutinib or temsirolimus.[208] With a median follow-up of 15 months, the median PFS favored ibrutinib (14.6 months vs. 6.2 months; HR, 0.43; 95% CI, 0.32–0.58, P < .0001).[208][Level of evidence: 1iiDiii] Ibrutinib has been combined with another active agent, venetoclax, in a phase II study of 23 patients with relapsed or refractory mantle cell lymphoma.[209] An unprecedented 71% of patients had CR and 78% of responding patients maintained response at 15 months.[209][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv]

Acalabrutinib (another B-cell receptor inhibitor via the Bruton tyrosine kinase pathway) was studied in 124 patients with relapsed/refractory mantle cell lymphoma.[210] In a phase II study, there was an 81% ORR, 40% CR rate, and the 1-year PFS rate was 67%.[210][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Rituximab, lenalidomide, ibrutinib, acalabrutinib, and venetoclax represent directed biologic agents that may lead the way to chemotherapy-free strategies for patients with mantle cell lymphoma.[211]

Patients with relapsed or refractory mantle cell lymphoma whose disease did not respond to ibrutinib or acalabrutinib were enrolled in a phase II trial using KTE-X19, an anti-CD19 chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy.[212] With a median follow-up of 12 months, 60 patients had an overall response rate of 93% (95% CI, 84%−98%) and a 67% CR (95% CI, 53%−78%).[212][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Grade 3 or higher cytokine release syndrome occurred in 15% of patients, and neurologic events occurred in 31% of patients.

Posttransplantation Lymphoproliferative Disorder

Patients who undergo transplantation of the heart, lung, liver, kidney, or pancreas usually require lifelong immunosuppression. This may result in posttransplantation lymphoproliferative disorder (PTLD) in 1% to 3% of recipients, which appears as an aggressive lymphoma.[213] Pathologists can distinguish a polyclonal B-cell hyperplasia from a monoclonal B-cell lymphoma; both are almost always associated with EBV.[214]


Poor performance status, grafted organ involvement, high IPI, elevated LDH, and multiple sites of disease are poor prognostic factors for PTLD.[215,216]

Therapeutic options

In some cases, withdrawal of immunosuppression results in eradication of the lymphoma.[217,218] When this is unsuccessful or not feasible, a course of rituximab may be considered, because it has shown durable remissions in approximately 60% of patients and a favorable toxicity profile.[217,219,220] If these measures fail, doxorubicin-based combination chemotherapy (R-CHOP) is recommended, although some patients can avoid cytotoxic therapy.[220,221] Localized presentations can be controlled with surgery or radiation therapy alone. These localized mass lesions, which may grow over a period of months, are often phenotypically polyclonal and tend to occur within weeks or a few months after transplantation.[214] Multifocal, rapidly progressive disease occurs late after transplantation (>1 year) and is usually phenotypically monoclonal and associated with EBV.[222] These patients may have durable remissions using standard chemotherapy regimens for aggressive lymphoma.[222,223,224] Instances of EBV-negative PTLD occur even later (median, 5 years posttransplant) and have a worse prognosis; R-CHOP chemotherapy can be applied directly in this circumstance.[225] A sustained clinical response after failure from chemotherapy was attained using an immunotoxin (anti-CD22 B-cell surface antigen antibody linked with ricin, a plant toxin).[226] An anti-interleukin-6 monoclonal antibody is also under clinical evaluation.[227]

True Histiocytic Lymphoma

True histiocytic lymphomas are very rare tumors that show histiocytic differentiation and express histiocytic markers in the absence of B-cell or T-cell lineage-specific immunologic markers.[228,229] Care must be taken with immunophenotypic tests to exclude ALCL or hemophagocytic syndromes caused by viral infections, especially EBV.

Therapeutic options

Therapy is modeled after the treatment of comparably staged diffuse large cell lymphomas, but the optimal approach remains to be defined.

Primary Effusion Lymphoma

Primary effusion lymphoma presents exclusively or mainly in the pleural, pericardial, or abdominal cavities in the absence of an identifiable tumor mass.[230] Patients are usually HIV seropositive, and the tumor usually contains Kaposi sarcoma–associated herpes virus/human herpes virus 8.[231]


The prognosis of primary effusion lymphoma is extremely poor.

Therapeutic approaches

Therapy is usually modeled after the treatment of comparably staged diffuse large cell lymphomas.

Plasmablastic Lymphoma

Plasmablastic lymphoma is most often seen in patients with HIV infection and is characterized by CD20-negative large B cells with plasmacytic features. This type of lymphoma has a very aggressive clinical course, including poor responses and short remissions with standard chemotherapy.[232] Anecdotal reports suggest using aggressive chemotherapy for Burkitt or lymphoblastic lymphoma, followed by SCT consolidation in responding patients, when feasible.[232,233,234]


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