Efficacy and the risk of severe late effects have to be well-balanced in treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma (HL). Late adverse effects include secondary malignancies which often have a poor prognosis. To synthesise evidence on the risk of secondary malignancies after current treatment approaches comprising chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy, we performed a meta-analysis based on individual patient data (IPD) from patients treated for newly diagnosed HL.
We investigated several questions concerning possible changes in the risk of secondary malignancies when modifying chemotherapy or radiotherapy (omission of radiotherapy, reduction of the radiation field, reduction of the radiation dose, use of fewer chemotherapy cycles, intensification of chemotherapy). We also analysed whether these modifications affect progression-free survival (PFS) and overall survival (OS).
We searched MEDLINE and Cochrane CENTRAL trials databases comprehensively in June 2010 for all randomised trials in HL since 1984. Key international trials registries were also searched. The search was updated in March 2015 without collecting further IPD (one further eligible study found) and again in July 2017 (no further eligible studies).
We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) for untreated HL patients which enrolled at least 50 patients per arm, completed recruitment by 2007 and performed a treatment comparison relevant to our objectives.
Study groups submitted IPD, including age, sex, stage and the outcomes secondary malignant neoplasm (SMN), OS and PFS as time-to-event data. We meta-analysed these data using Petos method (SMN) and Cox regression with inverse-variance pooling (OS, PFS) for each of the five study questions, and performed subgroup and sensitivity analyses to assess the applicability and robustness of the results.
We identified 21 eligible trials and obtained IPD for 16. For four studies no data were supplied despite repeated efforts, while one study was only identified in 2015 and IPD were not sought. For each study question, between three and six trials with between 1101 and 2996 participants in total and median follow-up between 6.7 and 10.8 years were analysed. All participants were adults and mainly under 60 years. Risk of bias was assessed as low for the majority of studies and outcomes. Chemotherapy alone versus same chemotherapy plus radiotherapy. Omitting additional radiotherapy probably reduces secondary malignancy incidence (Peto odds ratio (OR) 0.43, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.23 to 0.82, low quality of evidence), corresponding to an estimated reduction of eight-year SMN risk from 8% to 4%. This decrease was particularly true for secondary acute leukemias. However, we had insufficient evidence to determine whether OS rates differ between patients treated with chemotherapy alone versus combined-modality (hazard ratio (HR) 0.71, 95% CI 0.46 to 1.11, moderate quality of evidence). There was a slightly higher rate of PFS with combined modality, but our confidence in the results was limited by high levels of statistical heterogeneity between studies (HR 1.31, 95% CI 0.99 to 1.73, moderate quality of evidence). Chemotherapy plus involved-field radiation versus same chemotherapy plus extended-field radiation (early stages) . There is insufficient evidence to determine whether smaller radiation field reduces SMN risk (Peto OR 0.86, 95% CI 0.64 to 1.16, low quality of evidence), OS (HR 0.89, 95% C: 0.70 to 1.12, high quality of evidence) or PFS (HR 0.99, 95% CI 0.81 to 1.21, high quality of evidence). Chemotherapy plus lower-dose radiation versus same chemotherapy plus higher-dose radiation (early stages). There is insufficient evidence to determine the effect of lower-radiation dose on SMN risk (Peto OR 1.03, 95% CI 0.71 to 1.50, low quality of evidence), OS (HR 0.91, 95% CI 0.65 to 1.28, high quality of evidence) or PFS (HR 1.20, 95% CI 0.97 to 1.48, high quality of evidence). Fewer versus more courses of chemotherapy (each with or without radiotherapy; early stages). Fewer chemotherapy courses probably has little or no effect on SMN risk (Peto OR 1.10, 95% CI 0.74 to 1.62), OS (HR 0.99, 95% CI 0.73 to1.34) or PFS (HR 1.15, 95% CI 0.91 to 1.45).Outcomes had a moderate (SMN) or high (OS, PFS) quality of evidence. Dose-intensified versus ABVD-like chemotherapy (with or without radiotherapy in each case). In the mainly advanced-stage patients who were treated with intensified chemotherapy, the rate of secondary malignancies was low. There was insufficient evidence to determine the effect of chemotherapy intensification (Peto OR 1.37, CI 0.89 to 2.10, low quality of evidence). The rate of secondary acute leukemias (and for younger patients, all secondary malignancies) was probably higher than among those who had treatment with standard-dose ABVD-like protocols. In contrast, the intensified chemotherapy protocols probably improved PFS (eight-year PFS 75% versus 69% for ABVD-like treatment, HR 0.82, 95% CI 0.7 to 0.95, moderate quality of evidence). Evidence suggesting improved survival with intensified chemotherapy was not conclusive (HR: 0.85, CI 0.70 to 1.04), although escalated-dose BEACOPP appeared to lengthen survival compared to ABVD-like chemotherapy (HR 0.58, 95% CI 0.43 to 0.79, moderate quality of evidence).Generally, we could draw valid conclusions only in terms of secondary haematological malignancies, which usually occur less than 10 years after initial treatment, while follow-up within the present analysis was too short to record all solid tumours.
The risk of secondary acute myeloid leukaemia and myelodysplastic syndrome (AML/MDS) is increased but efficacy is improved among patients treated with intensified chemotherapy protocols. Treatment decisions must be tailored for individual patients. Consolidating radiotherapy is associated with an increased rate of secondary malignancies; therefore it appears important to define which patients can safely be treated without radiotherapy after chemotherapy, both for early and advanced stages. For early stages, treatment optimisation methods such as use of fewer chemotherapy cycles and reduced field or reduced-dose radiotherapy did not appear to markedly affect efficacy or secondary malignancy risk. Due to the limited amount of long-term follow-up in this meta-analysis, further long-term investigations of late events are needed, particularly with respect to secondary solid tumours. Since many older studies have been included, possible improvement of radiotherapy techniques must be considered when interpreting these results.