BACKGROUND: The efficacy of autologous stem-cell transplantation during the first remission in patients with diffuse, aggressive non-Hodgkin's lymphoma classified as high-intermediate risk or high risk on the International Prognostic Index remains controversial and is untested in the rituximab era. METHODS: We treated 397 patients who had disease with an age-adjusted classification of high risk or high-intermediate risk with five cycles of cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, and prednisone (CHOP) or CHOP plus rituximab. Patients with a response were randomly assigned to receive three additional cycles of induction chemotherapy (control group) or one additional cycle of induction chemotherapy followed by autologous stem-cell transplantation (transplantation group). The primary efficacy end points were 2-year progression-free survival and overall survival. RESULTS: Of 370 induction-eligible patients, 253 were randomly assigned to the transplantation group (125) or the control group (128). Forty-six patients in the transplantation group and 68 in the control group had disease progression or died, with 2-year progression-free survival rates of 69 and 55%, respectively (hazard ratio in the control group vs. the transplantation group, 1.72; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.18 to 2.51; P = 0.005). Thirty-seven patients in the transplantation group and 47 in the control group died, with 2-year overall survival rates of 74 and 71%, respectively (hazard ratio, 1.26; 95% CI, 0.82 to 1.94; P = 0.30). Exploratory analyses showed a differential treatment effect according to risk level for both progression-free survival (P = 0.04 for interaction) and overall survival (P = 0.01 for interaction). Among high-risk patients, the 2-year overall survival rate was 82% in the transplantation group and 64% in the control group. CONCLUSIONS Early autologous stem-cell transplantation improved progression-free survival among patients with high-intermediate-risk or high-risk disease who had a response to induction therapy. Overall survival after transplantation was not improved, probably because of the effectiveness of salvage transplantation.
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