Despite the frequent use of routine post-therapy imaging as a means of early detection of lymphoma relapse, there is limited evidence that regular scanning improves patient outcomes. Two groups reported on their experience with surveillance imaging at the recent annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.
Dr. Quoc Van Truong of the West Virginia School of Medicine retrospectively evaluated 77 patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma that had relapsed after achieving a complete response with initial treatment. Despite the frequent use of routine imaging, nearly 80% of relapses were detected by patient-reported symptoms and not surveillance imaging. Overall, there was no survival difference between the groups of patients whose relapse had been detected by scans versus those reporting additional symptoms. Additionally, surveillance imaging led to 2 false positive scans resulting in unnecessary invasive procedures.
Dr. Carrie A. Thomas of the Mayo Clinic reported on an analysis of 644 patients with DLBCL seen at the Mayo Clinic or University of Iowa between 2002 and 2009. A total of 537 patients entered post-treatment observation, and 109 of these patients relapsed while 41 died from other causes. At the time of relapse, 68% were symptomatic, 42% had an abnormal physical exam, 55% elevated LDH, and 87% had more than one of these features. Of the 38 patients whose relapse was detected during a planned visit, 26 displayed clinical features of relapse, while the relapse of the other 12 patients was detected by planned surveillance scan. Of these 12 relapses exclusively detected by the planned surveillance scan; 4 presented a low-grade or other subtype and 8 had DLBCL (4 of whom had equivocal/positive scans at the end of treatment). The authors concluded that post-therapy surveillance scans have little value in detecting DLBCL relapse.
These studies add to the growing body of literature suggesting that lymphoma patients that achieve a complete remission from first-line therapy may not benefit from routine imaging. We recommend that patients discuss plans for post-treatment surveillance with their physician.