Indolent non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) includes the following subtypes:
Follicular lymphoma comprises 20% of all NHLs and as many as 70% of the indolent lymphomas reported in American and European clinical trials.[1-3] 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 bcl-2 gene is present in more than 90% of patients with follicular lymphoma; overexpression of the bcl-2 protein is associated with the inability to eradicate the lymphoma by inhibiting apoptosis.
Despite the advanced stage, the median survival ranges from 8 to 15 years, leading to the designation of being indolent.[5-7] 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. Watchful waiting, i.e., the deferring of treatment until the patient becomes symptomatic, is an option for patients with advanced-stage follicular lymphoma. An international index for follicular lymphoma (i.e., the Follicular Lymphoma International Prognostic Index [FLIPI]) [11-13] identified five significant risk factors prognostic of overall survival (OS):
- Age (≤60 years vs. >60 years).
- Serum lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) (normal vs. elevated).
- Stage (stage I or stage II vs. stage III or stage IV).
- Hemoglobin level (≥120 g/L vs. <120 g/L).
- Number of nodal areas (≤4 vs. >4).
Patients with none or one risk factor have an 85% 10-year survival rate, while three or more risk factors confer a 40% 10-year survival rate. As a revised FLIPI, 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. Gene expression profiles of tumor biopsy specimens suggest that follicular lymphoma that is surrounded by infiltrating T-lymphocytes has a much longer median survival (13.6 years) than follicular lymphoma that is surrounded by dendritic and monocytic cells (3.9 years) (P < .001).
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 options include watchful waiting; rituximab, an anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody, alone or with purine nucleoside analogs; oral alkylating agents; and combination chemotherapy. Radiolabeled monoclonal antibodies, vaccines, and autologous or allogeneic bone marrow or peripheral stem cell transplantation are also under clinical evaluation.[16,17] Currently, no randomized trials have mature results to guide clinicians about the initial choice of rituximab, nucleoside analogs, alkylating agents, combination chemotherapy, radiolabeled monoclonal antibodies, or combinations of these options. On a comparative basis, it is difficult to prove benefit when relapsing disease is followed with watchful waiting, or when the median survival is more than 10 years. Follicular lymphoma in situ and primary follicular lymphoma of the duodenum are particularly indolent variants that rarely progress and rarely require therapy.[18,19] 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 bcl-2 rearrangement in conjunction with a Ki-67 proliferation index greater than 30% and a localized stage I presentation.
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 a therapy applicable to that histologic type. 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. In this series, high-risk factors for subsequent histologic transformation were advanced stage, high-risk FLIPI, and expectant management. The 5-year OS rate was more than 50% for 172 patients who had biopsy-proven, aggressive-histology transformation in a multicenter cohort study employing rituximab plus anthracycline or platinum-based chemotherapy, or similar therapy followed by autologous or allogeneic stem cell transplantation (ASCT).[23,24]
Lymphoplasmacytic Lymphoma (Waldenström Macroglobulinemia)
Lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma is usually associated with a monoclonal serum paraprotein of immunoglobulin M (IgM) type (Waldenström macroglobulinemia).[25-27] Most patients have bone marrow, lymph node, and splenic involvement, and some patients may develop hyperviscosity syndrome. Other lymphomas may also be associated with serum paraproteins.
Prognostic factors associated with symptoms requiring therapy include the following:
- Age 70 or older.
- Beta-2-microglobulin of 3 mg/dL or more.
- Increased serum LDH.
The management of lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma is similar to that of other low-grade lymphomas, especially diffuse, small lymphocytic lymphoma/chronic lymphocytic leukemia.[26-28,30-32] 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 dysfunction) but should 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. Occasionally, a heated room is required for patients whose cold agglutinins become activated by even minor chilling.
First-line regimens include rituximab, the nucleoside analogs, and alkylating agents, either as single agents or as part of combination chemotherapy.[33-36] Rituximab shows 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.[33,37,38][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.[29,39] The nucleoside analogs 2-chlorodeoxyadenosine and fludarabine have shown similar response rates for previously untreated patients with lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma.[36,40,41][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Single-agent alkylators, bendamustine, bortezomib, and combination chemotherapy with or without rituximab also show similar response rates.[36,39,42-45][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Currently, no randomized trials guide clinicians about the initial choice of rituximab, nucleoside analogs, alkylating agents, combination chemotherapy, or combinations of these options.[26,27,33] A combination of bortezomib, dexamethasone, and rituximab has been proposed for its high response rate, rapidity of action, and avoidance of an IgM rebound.[46-48]
Interferon-alpha also shows activity in this disease, in contrast to poor responses in patients with multiple myeloma. Myeloablative therapy with autologous or allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell support is under clinical evaluation.[50-53] 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.[33,54] 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.[Level of evidence: 1iiDii] Among patients with concomitant hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, some will attain a complete or partial remission after loss of detectable HCV RNA with treatment using interferon-alpha with or without ribavirin.[Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv]
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.[57-65]
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.[66,67] 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. 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.[69-71] Stable asymptomatic patients with persistently positive biopsies have been successfully followed on a watchful waiting approach until disease progression. Patients who progress are treated with radiation therapy,[72-75] rituximab, surgery (total gastrectomy or partial gastrectomy plus radiation therapy), chemotherapy, or combined–modality therapy. The use of endoscopic ultrasonography may help clinicians to follow responses in these patients. Four case series (encompassing more than 100 patients with stage IE or IIE diffuse, large, B-cell lymphoma 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.[80-83]
Localized involvement of other sites can be treated with radiation or surgery.[73-75,84-86] 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. Many of these recurrences involve different MALT sites than the original location. When disseminated to lymph nodes, bone marrow, or blood, this entity behaves like other low-grade lymphomas.[64,89] A prospective, randomized trial of 252 patients with nongastric, extranodal MALT compared chlorambucil with rituximab plus chlorambucil. With a median follow-up of 62 months, the event-free survival was better for the rituximab arm (68% vs. 50%, P = .002), however, the 5-year OS was 89% in both arms.[Level of evidence: 1iiDi] This trial was extended with a third arm using rituximab alone, the results of which are not yet available. 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.[Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Large B-cell lymphomas of MALT sites are classified and treated as diffuse large cell lymphomas.
Monocytoid B cell lymphoma (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. 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.[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. Campylobacter jejuni has been identified as one of the bacterial species associated with IPSID, and antibiotic therapy may result in remission of the disease.
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.[95-97] This type of lymphoma is otherwise known as splenic lymphoma with villous lymphocytes. Splenectomy may result in prolonged remission.[65,98]
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. Splenic marginal zone lymphoma responds less well to chemotherapy, which would ordinarily be effective for chronic lymphocytic leukemia.[96,97,99] 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.[56,100]; [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.[102-104] 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.
(Refer to the PDQ summaries on Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Treatment; Mycosis Fungoides/Sézary Syndrome Treatment; Hairy Cell Leukemia Treatment; and Adult Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment for more information.)
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