Rituximab maintenance treatment of relapsed/resistant follicular non-Hodgkin's lymphoma: long-term outcome of the EORTC 20981 phase III randomized intergroup study

J Clin Oncol. 2010 Jun 10;28(17):2853-8. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2009.26.5827. Epub 2010 May 3.


Purpose: In 2006, we published the results of the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer phase III trial EORTC 20981 on the role of rituximab in remission induction and maintenance treatment of relapsed/resistant follicular lymphoma (FL). At that time, the median follow-up for the maintenance phase was 33 months. Now, we report the long-term outcome of maintenance treatment, with a median follow-up of 6 years.

Patients and methods: Overall, 465 patients were randomly assigned to induction with either six cycles of cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, prednisone (CHOP) or rituximab plus CHOP (R-CHOP). Those in complete remission or partial remission after induction (n = 334) were randomly assigned to maintenance treatment with rituximab (375 mg/m(2) intravenously once every 3 months) or observation.

Results: Rituximab maintenance significantly improved progression-free survival (PFS) compared with observation (median, 3.7 years v 1.3 years; P < .001; hazard ratio [HR], 0.55), both after CHOP induction (P < .001; HR, 0.37) and R-CHOP (P = .003; HR, 0.69). The 5-year overall survival (OS) was 74% in the rituximab maintenance arm, and it was 64% in the observation arm (P = .07). After progression, a rituximab-containing salvage therapy was given to 59% of patients treated with CHOP followed by observation, compared with 26% after R-CHOP followed by rituximab maintenance. Rituximab maintenance was associated with a significant increase in grades 3 to 4 infections: 9.7% v 2.4% (P = .01).

Conclusion: With long-term follow-up, we confirm the superior PFS with rituximab maintenance in relapsed/resistant FL. The improvement of OS did not reach statistical significance, possibly because of the unbalanced use of rituximab in post-protocol salvage treatment.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase III
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / administration & dosage
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / adverse effects
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Cyclophosphamide / administration & dosage
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Doxorubicin / administration & dosage
  • Humans
  • Lymphoma, Follicular / drug therapy*
  • Prednisone / administration & dosage
  • Remission Induction
  • Rituximab
  • Survival Analysis
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vincristine / administration & dosage


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Rituximab
  • Vincristine
  • Doxorubicin
  • Cyclophosphamide
  • Prednisone

Supplementary concepts

  • CHOP protocol