For indolent lymphoma, the optimal timing, sequence, and choice of therapeutic regimens remain a matter of debate. In two Nordic Lymphoma Group randomized trials, symptomatic or clearly progressing patients were treated first line with a rituximab-containing regimen without chemotherapy. The purpose of this study was to assess long-term survival, risk of transformation, and need of new therapies.
Data were collected at cross-sectional follow-up for 321 patients with indolent lymphoma (84% with follicular lymphomas [FL]) included in one of two Nordic Lymphoma Group trials (accrual 1998 to 1999 and 2002 to 2008). All patients received first-line therapy with one or two cycles of four weekly infusions of rituximab 375 mg/m2, and 148 were randomly allocated to the addition of interferon alfa-2a. Follow-up data were retrieved from initial trial databases and medical records on repeated clinical evaluations.
At the end of follow-up, 73% of patients were alive, with a median follow-up after random assignment of 10.6 years. Among all, 36% (38% with FL) had never needed chemotherapy. For patients with FL who required new therapy within 24 months because of early disease progression, the 10-year survival rate was 59% versus 81% for those with longer remission. Interferon was not shown to improve long-term outcome. Transformation was diagnosed in 20% of all patients (2.4% per person-year) and in 18% with FL. An additional malignancy was found in 12%.
Approximately one third of patients with symptomatic indolent lymphoma (30% with FL, 23% without FL) did not need new therapy in the long term after first-line rituximab without chemotherapy. In the entire cohort, 10-year survival was excellent with no major safety issues, which suggests that chemotherapy can be delayed safely in the majority of patients.