NK/T-cell lymphomas: pathobiology, prognosis and treatment paradigm

Curr Oncol Rep. 2012 Oct;14(5):395-402. doi: 10.1007/s11912-012-0245-9.


The current World Health Organization (WHO) classification includes two types of natural killer (NK)-cell lymphomas: extranodal NK/T-cell lymphoma, nasal type (ENKL), and aggressive NK-cell leukemia (ANKL). These diseases are mostly endemic to East Asia and Latin America. The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is usually detected in tumor cells, suggesting that EBV plays an important role in lymphomagenesis. At the site of origin, ENKL can be divided into two major subtypes: nasal and extranasal diseases. The advanced disease presentation, highly aggressive clinical course, and poor prognosis of the latter are analogous to ANKL. It is well known that P-glycoprotein, which is a product of the multi-drug resistance (MDR1) gene, is expressed on neoplastic cells of ENKL or ANKL. This is a major cause of the refractoriness of malignant lymphoma to conventional chemotherapeutic regimens containing anthracycline. Recent studies, however, have identified that L-asparaginase-containing regimens, such as SMILE (steroid, methotrexate, ifosfamide, L-asparaginase and etoposide), are effective for ENKL. Considering the myelotoxicity of SMILE, its use in the treatment of ANKL needs some modifications, but this treatment scheme is promising in improving the prognosis of NK-cell lymphomas.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural* / pathology
  • Leukemia, T-Cell / drug therapy
  • Leukemia, T-Cell / pathology
  • Lymphoma, T-Cell / drug therapy*
  • Lymphoma, T-Cell / pathology
  • Lymphoma, T-Cell / virology
  • Methotrexate / therapeutic use
  • Nose Neoplasms / complications
  • Nose Neoplasms / pathology
  • Prognosis
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*


  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Methotrexate