The role of positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) in identifying Richter Syndrome (RS) is well established, while its impact on the survival of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) has been less explored. The clinical characteristics and PET/CT data of 40 patients with a biopsy-proven CLL who required frontline chemoimmunotherapy, FCR (fludarabine, cyclophosphamide, rituximab) in 20 patients, BR (bendamustine, rituximab) in 20, were retrospectively analyzed. Standardized uptake volume (SUVmax) values ≥ 5 were observed more frequently in patients with deletion 11q (p = 0.006) and biopsies characterized by a rate of Ki67 positive cells ≥ 30% (p = 0.02). In the multivariate analysis, the presence of large and confluent PCs emerged as the only factor with a negative impact on progression-free survival (PFS), and overall survival (OS). Deletion 11q also revealed a significant and independent effect on PFS. SUVmax values ≥ 5 showed no statistical impact on PFS while in multivariate analysis, they revealed a significant adverse impact on OS (median survival probability not reached vs. 56 months; p = 0.002). Moreover, patients with higher SUVmax values more frequently developed Richter Syndrome (p = 0.015). Our results show that higher SUVmax values identify CLL patients with a pronounced rate of proliferating cells in the lymph-node compartment, inferior survival, and an increased risk of developing RS.
Keywords: PET/CT; chronic lymphocytic leukemia; survival.