Lymphoma, Primary CNS

  • Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Care

    Primary central nervous system lymphoma is a disease in which cancer cells form in the lymph tissue of the brain and/or spinal cord. Learn about primary CNS lymphoma and find information on how we support and care for people with primary CNS lymphoma before, during, and after treatment.

Treatment 

The Hematologic Oncology Center provides specialized care for all types of cancers of the blood, including leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma and Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia.

The center also includes the hematopoietic stem cell transplantation program, which is one of the largest and most experienced in the world.

To make sure your care is as seamless as possible, a dedicated team of clinicians, who are highly specialized experts in your type of blood cancer, will care for you throughout the treatment process, from diagnosis though long-term follow-up.

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We develop personalized, comprehensive treatment plans for all our patients, offering the latest therapies and supportive resources and taking your individual needs into account.

In addition to conventional treatment approaches, you may have the opportunity to participate in clinical trials that offer access to new, innovative treatments for your type of cancer.

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General Information About Primary CNS Lymphoma

Primary central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the lymph tissue of the brain and/or spinal cord.

Lymphoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the lymph system. The lymph system is part of the immune system and is made up of the lymph, lymph vessels, lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, tonsils, and bone marrow. Lymphocytes (carried in the lymph) travel in and out of the central nervous system (CNS). It is thought that some of these lymphocytes become malignant and cause lymphoma to form in the CNS. Primary CNS lymphoma can start in the brain, spinal cord, or meninges (the layers that form the outer covering of the brain). Because the eye is so close to the brain, primary CNS lymphoma can also start in the eye (called ocular lymphoma).

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, showing the lymph vessels and lymph organs including lymph nodes, tonsils, thymus, spleen, and bone marrow. Lymph (clear fluid) and lymphocytes travel through the lymph vessels and into the lymph nodes where the lymphocytes destroy harmful substances. The lymph enters the blood through a large vein near the heart.

 

Having a weakened immune system may increase the risk of developing primary CNS lymphoma.

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk.

Primary CNS lymphoma may occur in patients who have acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) or other disorders of the immune system or who have had a kidneytransplant. For more information about lymphoma in patients with AIDS, see the PDQ summary on AIDS-Related Lymphoma Treatment.

Tests that examine the eyes, brain, and spinal cord are used to detect (find) and diagnose primary CNS lymphoma.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • Neurological exam: A series of questions and tests to check the brain, spinal cord, and nerve function. The exam checks a person’s mental status, coordination, ability to walk normally, and how well the muscles, senses, and reflexes work. This may also be called a neuro exam or a neurologic exam.
  • Slit-lamp eye exam: An exam that uses a special microscope with a bright, narrow slit of light to check the outside and inside of the eye.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the brain and spinal cord. A substance called gadolinium is injected into the patient through a vein. The gadolinium collects around the cancer cells so they show up brighter in the picture. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radioactiveglucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do.
  • Lumbar puncture: A procedure used to collect cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid in the spaces around the brain and spinal cord) from the spinal column. This is done by placing a needle into the spinal column. This procedure is also called an LP or spinal tap. Tests to diagnose primary CNS lymphoma may include checking the protein level and for signs of cancer in the cerebrospinal fluid.
    Lumbar puncture; drawing shows a patient lying in a curled position on a table and a spinal needle (a long, thin needle) being inserted into the lower back. Inset shows a close-up of the spinal needle inserted into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the lower part of the spinal column. 
    Lumbar puncture. A patient lies in a curled position on a table. After a small area on the lower back is numbed, a spinal needle (a long, thin needle) is inserted into the lower part of the spinal column to remove cerebrospinal fluid (CSF, shown in blue). The fluid may be sent to a laboratory for testing.
  • Stereotactic biopsy: A biopsy procedure that uses a computer and a 3-dimensional (3-D) scanning device to find a tumor site and guide the removal of tissue so it can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer.

    The following tests may be done on the samples of tissue that are removed:

    • Flow cytometry: A laboratory test that measures the number of cells in a sample, the percentage of live cells in a sample, and certain characteristics of cells, such as size, shape, and the presence of tumor markers on the cell surface. The cells are stained with a light-sensitive dye, placed in a fluid, and passed in a stream before a laser or other type of light. The measurements are based on how the light-sensitive dye reacts to the light.
    • Immunohistochemistry: A test that uses antibodies to check for certain antigens in a sample of tissue. The antibody is usually linked to a radioactive substance or a dye that causes the tissue to light up under a microscope. This type of test may be used to tell the difference between different types of cancer.
    • Cytogenetic analysis: A laboratory test in which cells in a sample of tissue are viewed under a microscope to look for certain changes in the chromosomes. Other tests, such as fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), may also be done to look for certain changes in the chromosomes.
     
  • Complete blood count (CBC) with differential: A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the following:
    • The number of red blood cells and platelets.
    • The number and type of white blood cells.
    • The amount of hemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen) in the red blood cells.
    • The portion of the blood sample made up of red blood cells.
    Complete blood count (CBC); left panel shows blood being drawn from a vein on the inside of the elbow using a tube attached to a syringe; right panel shows a laboratory test tube with blood cells separated into layers: plasma, white blood cells, platelets, and red blood cells.  
    Complete blood count (CBC). Blood is collected by inserting a needle into a vein and allowing the blood to flow into a tube. The blood sample is sent to the laboratory and the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are counted. The CBC is used to test for, diagnose, and monitor many different conditions.
  • Blood chemistry studies: A procedure in which a blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body. An unusual (higher or lower than normal) amount of a substance can be a sign of disease in the organ or tissue that makes it.

Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) depends on the following:

  • The patient's age and general health.
  • The level of certain substances in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).
  • Where the tumor is in the central nervous system.
  • Whether the patient has AIDS.

Treatment options depend on the following:

  • The stage of the cancer.
  • Where the tumor is in the central nervous system.
  • The patient's age and general health.
  • Whether the cancer has just been diagnosed or has recurred (come back).

Treatment of primary CNS lymphoma works best when the tumor has not spread outside the cerebrum (the largest part of the brain) and the patient is younger than 60 years, able to carry out most daily activities, and does not have AIDS or other diseases that weaken the immune system.

Staging Primary CNS Lymphoma

After primary central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the brain and spinal cord or to other parts of the body.

When primary CNS lymphoma continues to grow, it usually does not spread beyond the central nervous system or the eye. The process used to find out if cancer has spread is called staging. It is important to know if cancer has spread to other parts of the body in order to plan treatment. The following tests and procedures may be used in the staging process:

  • CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography. For primary CNS lymphoma, a CT scan is done of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis (the part of the body between the hips).
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignanttumorcells in the body. A small amount of radioactiveglucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do. A PET scan and CT scan may be done at the same time. This is called a PET-CT.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: The removal of bone marrow, blood, and a small piece of bone by inserting a hollow needle into the hipbone or breastbone. A pathologist views the bone marrow, blood, and bone under a microscope to look for signs of cancer.
    Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy; drawing shows a patient lying face down on a table and a Jamshidi needle (a long, hollow needle) being inserted into the hip bone. Inset shows the Jamshidi needle being inserted through the skin into the bone marrow of the hip bone. 
    Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. After a small area of skin is numbed, a Jamshidi needle (a long, hollow needle) is inserted into the patient’s hip bone. Samples of blood, bone, and bone marrow are removed for examination under a microscope.

There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.

Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:

  • Tissue. The cancer spreads from where it began by growing into nearby areas.
  • Lymph system. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the lymph system. The cancer travels through the lymph vessels to other parts of the body.
  • Blood. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the blood. The cancer travels through the blood vessels to other parts of the body.

Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.

When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.

  • Lymph system. The cancer gets into the lymph system, travels through the lymph vessels, and forms a tumor (metastatic tumor) in another part of the body.
  • Blood. The cancer gets into the blood, travels through the blood vessels, and forms a tumor (metastatic tumor) in another part of the body.

The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if primary CNS lymphoma spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are actually lymphoma cells. The disease is metastatic CNS lymphoma, not liver cancer.

There is no standard staging system for primary CNS lymphoma.

Recurrent Primary CNS Lymphoma

Recurrentprimary central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. Primary CNS lymphoma commonly recurs in the brain or the eye.

Treatment Option Overview

There are different types of treatment for patients with primary CNS lymphoma.

Different types of treatment are available for patients with primary central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Surgery is not used to treat primary CNS lymphoma.

Three standard treatments are used:

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type of cancer being treated.

High-dose radiation therapy to the brain can damage healthy tissue and cause disorders that can affect thinking, learning, problem solving, speech, reading, writing, and memory. Clinical trials have tested the use of chemotherapy alone or before radiation therapy to reduce the damage to healthy brain tissue that occurs with the use of radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid (intrathecal chemotherapy), an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type of cancer being treated. Primary CNS lymphoma may be treated with intrathecal chemotherapy and/or intraventricular chemotherapy, in which anticancer drugs are placed into the ventricles (fluid-filled cavities) of the brain.

Intrathecal chemotherapy; drawing shows the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain and spinal cord, and an Ommaya reservoir (a dome-shaped container that is placed under the scalp during surgery; it holds the drugs as they flow through a small tube into the brain). Top section shows a syringe and needle injecting anticancer drugs into the Ommaya reservoir. Bottom section shows a syringe and needle injecting anticancer drugs directly into the cerebrospinal fluid in the lower part of the spinal column. 
Intrathecal chemotherapy. Anticancer drugs are injected into the intrathecal space, which is the space that holds the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF, shown in blue). There are two different ways to do this. One way, shown in the top part of the figure, is to inject the drugs into an Ommaya reservoir (a dome-shaped container that is placed under the scalp during surgery; it holds the drugs as they flow through a small tube into the brain). The other way, shown in the bottom part of the figure, is to inject the drugs directly into the CSF in the lower part of the spinal column, after a small area on the lower back is numbed.

 

A network of blood vessels and tissue, called the blood-brain barrier, protects the brain from harmful substances. This barrier can also keep anticancer drugs from reaching the brain. In order to treat CNS lymphoma, certain drugs may be used to make openings between cells in the blood-brain barrier. This is called blood-brain barrier disruption. Anticancer drugs infused into the bloodstream may then reach the brain.

Steroid therapy

Steroids are hormones made naturally in the body. They can also be made in a laboratory and used as drugs. Glucocorticoids are steroid drugs that have an anticancer effect in lymphomas.

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant

High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant is a method of giving high doses of chemotherapy and replacing blood-forming cells destroyed by the cancer treatment. Stem cells (immature blood cells) are removed from the blood or bone marrow of the patient or a donor and are frozen and stored. After the chemotherapy is completed, the stored stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient through an infusion. These reinfused stem cells grow into (and restore) the body's blood cells.

Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.

Follow-up tests may be needed.

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. This is sometimes called re-staging.

Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.

Treatment Options for Primary CNS Lymphoma

Primary CNS Lymphoma Not Related to AIDS

Treatment of primary central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma in patients who do not have AIDS may include the following:

  • Chemotherapy.
  • Chemotherapy followed by radiation therapy.
  • Whole brain radiation therapy.
  • A clinical trial of high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant.

Primary CNS Lymphoma Related to AIDS

Treatment of primary central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma in patients who do have AIDS may include the following:

  • Steroids with or without radiation therapy.
  • Radiation therapy alone.
  • Chemotherapy followed by radiation therapy.

Treatment of primary CNS lymphoma is different in patients with AIDS because the treatment side effects may be more severe. (See the PDQ summary on AIDS-Related Lymphoma Treatment for more information).

Recurrent Primary CNS Lymphoma

Treatment of recurrentprimary central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma may include the following:

  • Chemotherapy or radiation therapy (if not received in earlier treatment).
  • A clinical trial of a new drug or treatment schedule.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with primary central nervous system non-Hodgkin lymphoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

To Learn More About Primary CNS Lymphoma

For more information from the National Cancer Institute about primary CNS lymphoma, see the following:

For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:


This information is provided by the National Cancer Institute.

This information was last updated on April 14, 2014.


General Information About Primary CNS Lymphoma

Primary central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma is defined as lymphoma limited to the cranial-spinal axis without systemic disease. An increasing incidence of this disease has been seen among patients with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and among other immunocompromised persons. The natural history of this disorder differs between patients with AIDS and those without AIDS. Computed tomographic (CT) scans may show ring enhancement in 50% of AIDS patients while patients without AIDS almost always show only homogeneous enhancement.[1] Both groups do equally poorly without therapy (1–3 month mean survival), but the overall survival for treated patients is much better for patients without AIDS (18.9 months) than for those with AIDS (2.6 months).[1][2]

Prognostic Factors

Poor prognostic factors include the following:[3][4][5]

  • Age older than 50 years.[5]
  • Performance status greater than 1 or Karnofsky performance status less than 70.[5]
  • Elevated serum level of lactate dehydrogenase.
  • Elevated cerebrospinal fluid protein concentration.
  • Involvement of nonhemispheric areas of the brain (periventricular, basal ganglia, brainstem, and cerebellum).

Diagnostics

When tumor progression occurs, it is usually confined to the CNS and/or the eye. Occult systemic disease can be excluded by staging with bone marrow biopsy and CT scans of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis.[6][7]

In one prospective, case series of 282 patients, 17% were found to have meningeal dissemination by cytomorphology, polymerase chain reaction of rearranged, immunoglobulin, heavy-chain genes, or meningeal enhancement on magnetic resonance imaging.[8] The clinical impact of meningeal involvement on prognosis and therapy remains to be evaluated.

Pathogenesis

Although more than 95% of patients with primary CNS lymphoma have lymphoma of B-cell origin, 45 patients with CNS lymphoma of T-cell origin showed no difference in presentation or outcome in a retrospective series with data collected from 12 cancer centers.[9] Almost all primary CNS lymphomas are aggressive neoplasms of the diffuse large B-cell type. In a retrospective case series derived from 18 cancer centers in five countries of 40 patients with low-grade primary CNS lymphoma, a better long-term outcome was shown (7-year median survival) than is associated with the usual aggressive CNS lymphoma.[10][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Anecdotal cases of primary CNS Hodgkin lymphoma have also been reported.[11]

Related Summaries

Note: Other PDQ summaries containing information related to primary CNS lymphoma include:

  • Adult Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment
  • Adult Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment

References:

  1. Fine HA, Mayer RJ: Primary central nervous system lymphoma. Ann Intern Med 119 (11): 1093-104, 1993.

  2. Nasir S, DeAngelis LM: Update on the management of primary CNS lymphoma. Oncology (Huntingt) 14 (2): 228-34; discussion 237-42, 244, 2000.

  3. Ferreri AJ, Blay JY, Reni M, et al.: Prognostic scoring system for primary CNS lymphomas: the International Extranodal Lymphoma Study Group experience. J Clin Oncol 21 (2): 266-72, 2003.

  4. Pollack IF, Lunsford LD, Flickinger JC, et al.: Prognostic factors in the diagnosis and treatment of primary central nervous system lymphoma. Cancer 63 (5): 939-47, 1989.

  5. Abrey LE, Ben-Porat L, Panageas KS, et al.: Primary central nervous system lymphoma: the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center prognostic model. J Clin Oncol 24 (36): 5711-5, 2006.

  6. O'Neill BP, Dinapoli RP, Kurtin PJ, et al.: Occult systemic non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) in patients initially diagnosed as primary central nervous system lymphoma (PCNSL): how much staging is enough? J Neurooncol 25 (1): 67-71, 1995.

  7. Abrey LE, Batchelor TT, Ferreri AJ, et al.: Report of an international workshop to standardize baseline evaluation and response criteria for primary CNS lymphoma. J Clin Oncol 23 (22): 5034-43, 2005.

  8. Fischer L, Martus P, Weller M, et al.: Meningeal dissemination in primary CNS lymphoma: prospective evaluation of 282 patients. Neurology 71 (14): 1102-8, 2008.

  9. Shenkier TN, Blay JY, O'Neill BP, et al.: Primary CNS lymphoma of T-cell origin: a descriptive analysis from the international primary CNS lymphoma collaborative group. J Clin Oncol 23 (10): 2233-9, 2005.

  10. Jahnke K, Korfel A, O'Neill BP, et al.: International study on low-grade primary central nervous system lymphoma. Ann Neurol 59 (5): 755-62, 2006.

  11. Gerstner ER, Abrey LE, Schiff D, et al.: CNS Hodgkin lymphoma. Blood 112 (5): 1658-61, 2008.

Treatment Option Overview

Radiation Therapy

Because of the diffuse nature of central nervous system (CNS) lymphomas, aggressive surgical decompression with partial or gross total removal of the tumor is of no benefit to the patient. Median survival with surgery alone is in the range of only 1 to 5 months. Until the mid 1990s, radiation therapy had been the standard treatment, with doses of up to 45 Gy using standard fractionation. A prospective trial by the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG-8315) used 40 Gy whole-brain radiation therapy (WBRT) and a 20 Gy boost to the tumor and found that the results were no better than had been previously reported with a median survival of 1 year and 28% of the patients surviving 2 years.[1][2] Disease recurs in the brain in 92% of patients despite high doses of radiation. The addition of spinal-axis radiation does not affect survival because it does not prevent cerebral relapse.

Combined Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy

Two multicenter, prospective trials (including RTOG-8806) used preirradiation cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, and dexamethasone followed by WBRT.[3][4] Median survival times were no better than for radiation therapy alone. The failure of these and other combined modality trials [5] has been attributed to poor penetration of standard drugs through the blood-brain barrier and to increased neurologic toxic effects.[3][5][6][7][8][9][10] A retrospective review of 226 patients suggested improved results with the use of high-dose methotrexate or cytarabine with radiation therapy rather than with other combination regimens.[11]

A multicenter trial (RTOG-9310) of 102 patients used high-dose methotrexate (2.5 g/m2) for five cycles, intravenous vincristine, oral procarbazine, intraventricular methotrexate, and either 45 Gy of WBRT or 36 Gy in a hyperfractionated schedule.[12] Median progression-free survival (PFS) was 24 months, and median overall survival (OS) was 37 months.[13][Level of evidence: 3iiiA] Severe delayed neurologic toxic effects were seen in 15% of patients.

Another multicenter trial (EORTC-20962 [NCT00003061]) was comprised of 52 patients younger than 66 years who used high-dose methotrexate, teniposide, carmustine, methylprednisolone, intrathecal methotrexate, cytarabine, and hydrocortisone followed by 40 Gy of radiation therapy; the median survival was 46 months, but a 10% toxic death rate occurred even in this younger patient population.[14][Level of evidence: 3iiiA] Follow-up was too short (median 27 months) to fully assess severe delayed neurologic toxic effects.

Chemotherapy Alone

Because of unsatisfactory results of WBRT alone and the neurologic toxic effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, a major focus is now on trials with chemotherapy alone.[15] Multiple reports have described systemic chemotherapy, which has been employed alone or with osmotic blood-brain barrier disruption, usually including high-dose methotrexate with frequent hospitalizations.[8][10][16][17][18][19][20][21]

A multicenter trial (NABTT-9607) evaluated high-dose methotrexate alone (8 g/m2) for newly diagnosed patients, with WBRT administered only at disease recurrence. With a median follow-up of 2 years, median PFS was 13 months and median OS had not been reached at 23 plus months.[22][Level of evidence: 3iiiA] Another multicenter trial (EORTC-26952) of 50 patients older than 60 years used high-dose methotrexate (3 g/m2/cycle), lomustine, procarbazine, methylprednisolone, and intrathecal methotrexate and cytarabine. The 1-year PFS was 40%, and the median OS was 14.3 months in this older patient group with a median age of 72 years.[23][Level of evidence: 3iiiA] Another multicenter trial of 65 patients used both high-dose methotrexate and high-dose cytarabine, including ifosfamide, cyclophosphamide, vinca alkaloids, dexamethasone, and intrathecal methotrexate, cytarabine, and prednisolone. The median time-to-treatment failure was 15 months with a median survival of 34 months; 57% of patients age 60 or younger were still alive at a median follow-up of 8 years.[24][25][Level of evidence: 3iiiA] Patients with recurrent or refractory CNS lymphoma after methotrexate-based chemotherapy are candidates for salvage chemotherapy.[26]

Severe delayed neurologic toxic effects were rarely seen in these chemotherapy-only trials (in the absence of subsequent radiation therapy). Reduction of dosage for subsequent radiation to 23.4 Gy has been applied for patients who achieve clinical complete response after induction chemotherapy.[27][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiii] Intensive chemotherapy with autologous peripheral stem cell transplantation is also under evaluation; neurologic toxic effects were not reported in the absence of radiation therapy.[28][29][30][31][32] These phase II results have never been tested in a randomized setting because of an insufficient number of patients.

Toxicities

Severe cognitive deficits are reported with all intensive therapies due to iatrogenic leukoencephalopathy. Retrospective data suggest a decreased risk of dementia when chemotherapy is employed prior to radiation therapy and even less when radiation therapy is avoided.[11][33][34] The use of systemic chemotherapy alone, with or without osmotic blood-brain barrier disruption, may avoid the cognitive loss observed with radiation therapy.[11][16][17][34] Comparative trials with validated measures of cognitive function will be necessary to determine the value of delaying radiation therapy until relapse after high-dose chemotherapy.[22][34][35][36][37] Glucocorticoids can also produce substantial but short-lived remissions. Steroid efficacy may complicate the diagnostic evaluation by obscuring the histologic findings. Other drugs that cross the blood-brain barrier are under clinical evaluation.[38][39]

Randomized Trials

In a prospective, randomized trial of 551 immunocompetent patients with newly diagnosed primary CNS lymphoma, all patients received induction chemotherapy with six cycles of high-dose methotrexate (4 g/m2) with or without ifosfamide.[40] Upon completion of chemotherapy, responders were randomly assigned to WBRT (45 Gy) or to no treatment for complete response patients and cytarabine for partial response patients. There was no statistical difference in median OS with 32.4 months for patients receiving radiation therapy versus 37.1 months for those not receiving radiation (hazard ratio [HR] = 1.06; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.80–1.40, P = .71).[40][Level of evidence: 1iiA] Treatment-related neurotoxicity was significantly worse on the radiation therapy arm, and such toxicity must be weighed against the possibility that the survival from chemotherapy alone may be marginally inferior to the survival when radiation is added.

In a randomized, nonblinded, multicenter trial, 79 patients were randomly assigned to high-dose methotrexate versus high-dose methotrexate plus cytarabine.[41] While 3-year PFS was better for the 2-drug regimen (HR, 0.54; 95% CI, 0.31–0.92, P = .01), there was no difference in 3-year OS (46% for the 2-drug regimen vs. 32% for the 1-drug regimen, HR, 0.65; 95% CI, 0.38–1.13; P = .07).[41][Level of evidence: 1iiDiii]

HIV-Associated Primary CNS Lymphoma

Patients with HIV-associated primary CNS lymphoma usually have very advanced infections with CD4 counts less than 50 cells/mm3.[42] Consequently, most patients die of opportunistic infections regardless of therapy for the lymphoma. Groups that benefit most from radiation therapy, with or without antecedent chemotherapy, include those HIV-seropositive patients with no prior opportunistic infections or tumors for whom the CNS lymphoma is the AIDS-defining illness, and those patients with a good performance status, high CD4 lymphocyte count (>100mm3), and symptoms referable only to the CNS lymphoma.[33][43] Treatment of these patients requires special consideration. (Refer to the PDQ summary on AIDS-Related Lymphoma Treatment for more information.)

Intraocular Lymphoma

An international consortium performed a retrospective review of 83 HIV-negative patients with primary intraocular lymphoma.[44] In selected patients with no evidence of disseminated CNS disease, localized therapy with intraocular methotrexate or ocular radiation therapy is associated with equivalent outcomes seen with systemic chemotherapy and/or WBRT. Localized therapy with intraocular methotrexate or ocular radiation therapy did not affect relapse rate, median PFS, or median OS as compared to systemic chemotherapy and/or WBRT.[44][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv]

Current Clinical Trials

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

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

References:

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This information is provided by the National Cancer Institute.

This information was last updated on January 3, 2014.

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