Relapse Timing Is Associated With Distinct Evolutionary Dynamics in Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma

J Clin Oncol. 2023 Sep 1;41(25):4164-4177. doi: 10.1200/JCO.23.00570. Epub 2023 Jun 15.


Purpose: Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) is cured in more than 60% of patients, but outcomes remain poor for patients experiencing disease progression or relapse (refractory or relapsed DLBCL [rrDLBCL]), particularly if these events occur early. Although previous studies examining cohorts of rrDLBCL have identified features that are enriched at relapse, few have directly compared serial biopsies to uncover biological and evolutionary dynamics driving rrDLBCL. Here, we sought to confirm the relationship between relapse timing and outcomes after second-line (immuno)chemotherapy and determine the evolutionary dynamics that underpin that relationship.

Patients and methods: Outcomes were examined in a population-based cohort of 221 patients with DLBCL who experienced progression/relapse after frontline treatment and were treated with second-line (immuno)chemotherapy with an intention-to-treat with autologous stem-cell transplantation (ASCT). Serial DLBCL biopsies from a partially overlapping cohort of 129 patients underwent molecular characterization, including whole-genome or whole-exome sequencing in 73 patients.

Results: Outcomes to second-line therapy and ASCT are superior for late relapse (>2 years postdiagnosis) versus primary refractory (<9 months) or early relapse (9-24 months). Diagnostic and relapse biopsies were mostly concordant for cell-of-origin classification and genetics-based subgroup. Despite this concordance, the number of mutations exclusive to each biopsy increased with time since diagnosis, and late relapses shared few mutations with their diagnostic counterpart, demonstrating a branching evolution pattern. In patients with highly divergent tumors, many of the same genes acquired new mutations independently in each tumor, suggesting that the earliest mutations in a shared precursor cell constrain tumor evolution toward the same genetics-based subgroups at both diagnosis and relapse.

Conclusion: These results suggest that late relapses commonly represent genetically distinct and chemotherapy-naïve disease and have implications for optimal patient management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use
  • Chronic Disease
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation*
  • Humans
  • Lymphoma, Large B-Cell, Diffuse* / drug therapy
  • Lymphoma, Large B-Cell, Diffuse* / therapy
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / drug therapy
  • Transplantation, Autologous