Follicular lymphoma (FL) is an incurable disease with an undefined optimal management strategy. Global priorities in goals of care are avoidance of death and transformation to aggressive subtypes. Retrospective series, – most including patients diagnosed before ubiquitous rituximab use, - describe diverse rates of transformation with a common consensus of 3% per year, and with a median survival post transformation of less than 2 years. This study sought to characterize transformation events in a prospective observational series begun after diffusion of early rituximab use in FL.
Newly diagnosed FL patients were prospectively enrolled in the University of Iowa/Mayo Clinic SPORE Molecular Epidemiology Resource (MER) from 2002–2009. Clinical data were abstracted from medical records using a standard protocol. Patients were actively followed for retreatment, transformation, and death. Inclusion criteria for this analysis were initial diagnosis of grade I-IIIa FL. Exclusion criteria for this cohort include composite diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), FL grade IIIb, or evidence of clinical or pathological transformation at the time of FL diagnosis. Transformation was defined as refractory/recurrent disease with either a) biopsy confirmed subtype of FLIIIb, DLBCL or higher grade B-cell lymphoma; or b) clinical indication of transformation (sudden rise in LDH, rapid discordant localized nodal growth, new involvement of unusual extranodal sites, new B symptoms or hypercalcemia). Risk of transformation was analyzed via time to transformation using a death as a competing risk. Time to transformation was defined as the date of initial FL diagnosis to date of transformation. Overall survival was defined as the date of initial diagnosis to date of death or last known follow-up for patients still alive.
There were 631 newly diagnosed grade I-IIIa FL patients with a median age at enrollment of 60 years (range 23–93). 54% were male. The most common types of initial therapy were observation (33%), rituximab (R) monotherapy (12%), alkylator based chemotherapy +/− R (22%), and anthracycline based chemotherapy +/− R (20%). At a median follow-up of 60 months (range 11–110), 79 patients had died, 311 patients had an event (death, progression, or retreatment), and 60 patients (9.5%) had transformed. Transformation was biopsy proven in 48 of the 60 patients (80%). The overall transformation rate at 5 years (TX5) was 10.7% (95% CI: 8.3%–13.8%) (Figure 1). Time to transformation was associated with a FLIPI score of 3–5 (HR=2.37, 95% CI 1.28–4.39, p=0.006), but was not significantly associated with other standard clinical characteristics. Risk of transformation was different in the common initial treatment groups with the highest rate in patients who were initially observed (TX5=14.4%) and lowest rate in patients who initially received R monotherapy (TX5=3.2%)(p=0.058). Outcome after transformation was inferior to MER subjects with de-novo diagnosed DLBCL (p<0.0001). The median overall survival from date of transformation was 44 months (95% CI: 22-NA). Survival after transformation was superior in patients who transformed greater than 18 months after FL diagnosis compared to patients who transformed earlier (5 yr OS =70% vs 20%) (p=7 ×10−5), and for those initially observed (median unreached) versus those patients who were initially treated with alkylator or anthracycline based chemotherapy (median survival of 11 months)( p=0.016).
Follicular transformation rates in this modern large prospective observational study are similar to risk of death without transformation and slightly lower at 5 years than most previous reports. Post-transformation prognosis is substantially better than described in older series. These observed differences may be a function of the prospective nature of the study design, modern management strategies, or patient selection factors. Initial management strategies may influence the risk of transformation. Marked survival differences following early vs. late transformation suggest that these may be different biologic events.
Link:Genentech: Consultancy, Research Funding; Celgene: Consultancy; Millenium: Consultancy. Johnston:Novartis: Consultancy.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.