Pulmonary lesions in early response assessment in pediatric Hodgkin lymphoma: prevalence and possible implications for initial staging

Pediatr Radiol. 2024 Jan 31. doi: 10.1007/s00247-024-05859-y. Online ahead of print.


Background: Disseminated pulmonary involvement in pediatric Hodgkin lymphoma (pHL) is indicative of Ann Arbor stage IV disease. During staging, it is necessary to assess for coexistence of non-malignant lung lesions due to infection representing background noise to avoid erroneously upstaging with therapy intensification.

Objective: This study attempts to describe new lung lesions detected on interim staging computed tomography (CT) scans after two cycles of vincristine, etoposide, prednisolone, doxorubicin in a prospective clinical trial. Based on the hypothesis that these new lung lesions are not part of the underlying malignancy but are epiphenomena, the aim is to analyze their size, number, and pattern to help distinguish true lung metastases from benign lung lesions on initial staging.

Materials and methods: A retrospective analysis of the EuroNet-PHL-C1 trial re-evaluated the staging and interim lung CT scans of 1,300 pediatric patients with HL. Newly developed lung lesions during chemotherapy were classified according to the current Fleischner glossary of terms for thoracic imaging. Patients with new lung lesions found at early response assessment (ERA) were additionally assessed and compared to response seen in hilar and mediastinal lymph nodes.

Results: Of 1,300 patients at ERA, 119 (9.2%) had new pulmonary lesions not originally detectable at diagnosis. The phenomenon occurred regardless of initial lung involvement or whether a patient relapsed. In the latter group, new lung lesions on ERA regressed by the time of relapse staging. New lung lesions on ERA in patients without relapse were detected in 102 (7.8%) patients. Pulmonary nodules were recorded in 72 (5.5%) patients, the majority (97%) being<10 mm. Consolidations, ground-glass opacities, and parenchymal bands were less common.

Conclusion: New nodules on interim staging are common, mostly measure less than 10 mm in diameter and usually require no further action because they are most likely non-malignant. Since it must be assumed that benign and malignant lung lesions coexist on initial staging, this benign background noise needs to be distinguished from lung metastases to avoid upstaging to stage IV disease. Raising the cut-off size for lung nodules to ≥ 10 mm might achieve the reduction of overtreatment but needs to be further evaluated with survival data. In contrast to the staging criteria of EuroNet-PHL-C1 and C2, our data suggest that the number of lesions present at initial staging may be less important.

Keywords: Cancer; Computed tomography; Hodgkin lymphoma; Immunosuppression; Lung; Pediatric.