Background: Although many patients with intermediate-grade or high-grade (aggressive) non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are cured by combination chemotherapy, the remainder are not cured and ultimately die of their disease. The Ann Arbor classification, used to determine the stage of this disease, does not consistently distinguish between patients with different long-term prognoses. This project was undertaken to develop a model for predicting outcome in patients with aggressive non-Hodgkin's lymphoma on the basis of the patients' clinical characteristics before treatment.
Methods: Adults with aggressive non-Hodgkin's lymphoma from 16 institutions and cooperative groups in the United States, Europe, and Canada who were treated between 1982 and 1987 with combination-chemotherapy regimens containing doxorubicin were evaluated for clinical features predictive of overall survival and relapse-free survival. Features that remained independently significant in step-down regression analyses of survival were incorporated into models that identified groups of patients of all ages and groups of patients no more than 60 years old with different risks of death.
Results: In 2031 patients of all ages, our model, based on age, tumor stage, serum lactate dehydrogenase concentration, performance status, and number of extranodal disease sites, identified four risk groups with predicted five-year survival rates of 73 percent, 51 percent, 43 percent, and 26 percent. In 1274 patients 60 or younger, an age-adjusted model based on tumor stage, lactate dehydrogenase level, and performance status identified four risk groups with predicted five-year survival rates of 83 percent, 69 percent, 46 percent, and 32 percent. In both models, the increased risk of death was due to both a lower rate of complete responses and a higher rate of relapse from complete response. These two indexes, called the international index and the age-adjusted international index, were significantly more accurate than the Ann Arbor classification in predicting long-term survival.
Conclusions: The international index and the age-adjusted international index should be used in the design of future therapeutic trials in patients with aggressive non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and in the selection of appropriate therapeutic approaches for individual patients.