A systematic overview of chemotherapy effects in Hodgkin's disease

Acta Oncol. 2001;40(2-3):185-97. doi: 10.1080/02841860151116240.


A systematic review of chemotherapy trials in several tumour types was performed by The Swedish Council of Technology Assessment in Health Care (SBU). The procedures for the evaluation of the scientific literature are described separately (Acta Oncol 2001; 40: 155-65). This synthesis of the literature on chemotherapy for Hodgkin's disease (HD) is based on 113 scientific reports including four meta-analyses, 44 randomised studies, 18 prospective studies and 40 retrospective studies. These studies involve 69,196 patients. The conclusions reached can be summarised into the following points: Chemotherapy is of utmost importance for the cure of HD. At early stages, extended field radiotherapy cures most patients. For the majority of patients with relapse after radiotherapy, chemotherapy is curative and the total proportion of cured early stage patients is 75-90%. Chemotherapy in addition to extended field radiotherapy reduces recurrences but does not improve long-term survival. In early stage HD with a large mediastinal mass and/or with systemic symptoms, combined treatment with chemotherapy and radiotherapy is recommended. It is likely that chemotherapy will play a greater role in the future in the treatment also of early stage patients in order to reduce late consequences from extended field radiotherapy. However, this conclusion remains to be better documented in the literature. At advanced stages, chemotherapy or a combination of chemotherapy and limited field radiotherapy are effective treatment options and, using the regimens available 10-20 years ago, 40-50% of the patients are cured. Based upon more favourable short-term (three to eight years) results of more recently developed regimens, it can be expected that today a higher proportion of the patients will become long-term survivors. Several chemotherapy regimens containing four to eight drugs are effective in HD. The best regimen considering both antitumour activity and acute and late side-effects is not known. The choice of regimen is probably best done after considering various pre-treatment factors such as the number of poor prognostic signs, concomitant diseases and individual preferences. The results of chemotherapy are more favourable in young than in elderly patients. The development of less toxic but still effective treatment programmes is therefore particularly important for the elderly. High dose chemotherapy with stem cell support is presently often used in patients who are chemotherapy induction failures, who relapse after a short initial remission or after a longer initial remission and treated initially with seven or eight drugs, or who have had multiple relapses. However, this use is based on data from uncontrolled or small controlled studies, not being fully convincing with respect to effect on survival. Persistent side-effects of treatment are common among long-term survivors, although most patients have an apparently normal life. The relative contributions of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to the persistent effects are not well documented.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation
  • Hodgkin Disease / drug therapy*
  • Hodgkin Disease / radiotherapy
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Prognosis
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Survival Analysis