The importance of the association between early lymphocyte recovery and outcome has not been well studied in autologous stem cell transplantation (ASCT). In this retrospective study, we analyzed 90 consecutive patients with non-Hodgkin's and Hodgkin's lymphoma who underwent ASCT. Patients were divided into two groups: group 1 with absolute lymphocyte count (ALC) on day +15 below the median of 667/mm(3), and group 2 with ALC >or=667/mm(3). The median progression-free survival (PFS), but not overall survival (OS), was significantly longer in group 2 when compared to group 1 (16 months vs not reached P=0.02). Group 2 patients also had significantly shorter hospital stay, received higher CD34(+) cell dose, and had shorter time to neutrophil recovery. Multivariate analysis demonstrated day +15 ALC to be an independent prognostic indicator for PFS, but not OS, while CD34(+) cell dose and the number of pretransplant treatments were better predictors for both PFS and OS. We conclude that higher day +15 ALC may independently predict better PFS after ASCT for lymphoma patients; however, whether this merely reflects faster overall recovery caused by higher infused CD34(+) cell dose and less pretransplant therapy needs further investigation.