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Historically, the median overall survival for follicular lymphoma (FL) has been considered to be 9-10years, and no treatment had ever prolonged this time period. Studies conducted more than 20years ago demonstrated that treating patients with asymptomatic FL at the onset of the disease did not increase their survival, and that almost 20% of these patients did not need any treatment in the first 10years of follow-up. Based on these facts, most clinical practice guidelines recommend active surveillance policies for patients with asymptomatic FL.
The introduction of antiCD-20 monoclonal antibodies, over the last 15years, has significantly increased the median survival rate to above 14years. This improvement was achieved before the combination of rituximab and chemotherapy regimens became extensively used in patients with symptomatic disease. Therefore, this increase in survival may currently be more significant. At present, several clinical trials have evaluated low-toxicity therapies that prolong progression-free periods, among which rituximab monotherapy, radioimmunotherapy or the combination of rituximab with bendamustine are the most relevant. Unfortunately, these clinical trials have included only patients with symptomatic FL. The results of a recently reported clinical trial show that treatment with single-agent rituximab prolongs progression-free survival rates, time to new treatment and the quality of life of asymptomatic patients, as compared with the active surveillance strategy. Longer follow-up of these results and data regarding overall survival are awaited before this treatment can be recommended as the standard initial therapy.
There are different therapeutic possibilities for asymptomatic FL patients, but no data are currently available to indicate which option is the best. Patients need to understand the risks and benefits of observation versus treatment before a final decision can be made. For patients who want active treatment the administration of four weekly rituximab doses should be considered.