Introduction: The addition of Rituximab to chemotherapy has significantly improved the outcome of patients with newly diagnosed diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). Patients treated with immunochemotherapy for DLBCL who achieve EFS24 (event-free for 2 years after diagnosis) have an overall survival equivalent to that of the age- and sex-matched general population. Relapses after achieving EFS24 have been considered to be unusual but have been understudied. We sought to define the rate, clinical characteristics, treatment pattern, and outcomes of such relapses.

Methods: 1448 patients with newly diagnosed DLBCL from March 2002 to June 2015 were included. Patients were enrolled in the Molecular Epidemiology Resource (MER) of the University of Iowa/Mayo Clinic Lymphoma SPORE, treated per physician choice (predominantly R-CHOP immunochemotherapy) and followed prospectively. An event was defined as progression or relapse, unplanned re-treatment after initial therapy, or death from any cause. Cumulative incidence of relapse and non-relapse mortality after achieving EFS24 were analyzed as competing events using Gray's test in the EZR software. Post-relapse survival was defined as time from relapse to death from any cause and analyzed using Kaplan-Meier method in SPSS (V22).

Results: Among the 1448 patients, 1260 (87%) had DLBCL alone at diagnosis, and 188 (13%) had concurrent indolent lymphoma (follicular lymphoma 115, marginal zone lymphoma 18, chronic lymphocytic leukemia 14, lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma 4, unspecified 37) at diagnosis. After a median follow-up of 83.9 months, 896 patients achieved EFS24. For all 896 patients who achieved EFS24, the cumulative incidence of relapse (CIR) was 5.7%, 9.3% and 13.2%, respectively, at 2, 5 and 10 years after achieving EFS24. Patients with concurrent indolent lymphoma at diagnosis had a higher CIR compared to those with DLBCL alone at diagnosis (10.2 vs 4.8% at 2 years, 15.7 vs 8.0% at 5 years, 28.8 vs 9.7% at 10 years, P<0.001; Figure 1).

There were a total of 84 patients who relapsed after achieving EFS24. The median age at initial diagnosis was 66 years (range 35-92), and 48 (57%) were male. At diagnosis, 11 (13%) had ECOG PS >1, 37 (50%) had LDH elevation, 62 (74%) were stage III-IV, 14 (17%) had more than 1 extranodal site, and 26 (31%) were poor risk by R-IPI score.

There were 58 patients with DLBCL alone at diagnosis who relapsed after achieving EFS24, and 38 (75%) relapsed with DLBCL, 13 (25%) relapsed with indolent lymphoma (predominantly follicular lymphoma), and pathology was unknown in 7 patients. In contrast, there were 26 patients with concurrent indolent lymphoma at diagnosis who relapsed after achieving EFS24, and 9 (41%) relapsed with DLBCL, 13 (59%) relapsed with indolent lymphoma, and pathology was unknown in 4 patients.

In the 47 patients who relapsed with DLBCL after achieving EFS24, 45% received intensive salvage chemotherapy, 19% received regular intensity chemotherapy, 9% received CNS directed chemotherapy, and 36% went on to receive autologous stem cell transplant (ASCT). In the 26 patients who relapsed with indolent lymphoma after achieving EFS24, 27% were initially observed, 54% received regular intensity chemotherapy, 4% received intensive salvage chemotherapy, and 19% received ASCT after subsequent progression. The median post-relapse survival (PRS) for all patients with a relapse after achieving EFS24 was 38.0 months (95% CI 27.5-48.5). The median PRS for patients who relapsed with DLBCL and indolent lymphoma after achieving EFS24 were 29.9 (19.9-39.9) and 89.9 (NR-NR) months, respectively (P=0.002; Figure 2).

Conclusions: Relapses after achieving EFS24 in patients with DLBCL were uncommon in the rituximab era. Patient with DLBCL alone at diagnosis can relapse with either DLBCL or indolent lymphoma (3:1 ratio). Patients with concurrent DLBCL and indolent lymphoma at diagnosis had a significantly higher CIR, and relapses with DLBCL and indolent lymphoma were similar (2:3 ratio). Even with high intensity salvage chemotherapy and consolidative ASCT, patients who relapsed with DLBCL had a significantly worse survival compared to those who relapsed with indolent lymphoma. Late relapses with DLBCL remain clinically challenging, with a median survival of 2.5 years after relapse.


Maurer:Celgene: Research Funding; Nanostring: Research Funding; Morphosys: Research Funding. Witzig:Celgene: Consultancy, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding. Ansell:Takeda: Research Funding; Pfizer: Research Funding; Affimed: Research Funding; Regeneron: Research Funding; Seattle Genetics: Research Funding; Celldex: Research Funding; LAM Therapeutics: Research Funding; Trillium: Research Funding; Merck & Co: Research Funding; Bristol-Myers Squibb: Research Funding. Cerhan:Celgene: Research Funding; Jannsen: Other: Scientific Advisory Board; Nanostring: Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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