Secondary central nervous system (CNS) involvement in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) includes an isolated CNS relapse or CNS involvement with systemic disease progression. This rare but fatal clinical problem still remains a therapeutic dilemma in the management of DLBCL. However, there are limited data about its treatment outcome. In this study, we gathered 73 cases with secondary CNS involvement of DLBCL from 11 hospitals in Korea. The data were retrospectively compared according to the status of systemic disease (isolated vs. combined CNS involvement) and the use of high-dose methotrexate treatment (HD MTX). Twenty-nine patients showed isolated CNS involvement while 44 had combined CNS involvement with systemic relapse or progression. Thirty-three cases (45.2%) occurred within 6 months from the initial diagnosis, and the majority of these were associated with systemic disease relapse or progression (n = 27). In isolated CNS involvement, HD MTX resulted in fewer treatment failures (3/11) than the other treatments such as other salvage chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy/intraventricular chemotherapy (14/15). However, neither HD MTX nor other treatments were effective at reducing the treatment failure rate in combined CNS involvement (8/10 and 23/30, respectively). Thus, isolated CNS involvement had a better survival than combined involvement (P = 0.008), but systemic disease progression was the main cause of death in combined as well as isolated CNS involvement. In conclusion, the prognosis of secondary CNS involvement was dismal even after intensive chemotherapy using HD MTX. Further research focusing on the development of an optimal treatment strategy is warranted.
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