Is there convincing evidence for the use of chemotherapy alone in patients with limited stage Hodgkin's lymphoma?
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Standard practices for patients with stages I and IIA non-bulky Hodgkin's lymphoma have evolved to include combined-modality therapy consisting of two or three cycles of ABVD and radiation therapy to the involved field. Long-term disease control can be expected in more than 90% of patients. However, long-term survival will also be dependent on the occurrence of treatment-related toxicities (late-effects) that include second cancers and cardiovascular events; deaths from these causes will outnumber those due to progressive Hodgkin's lymphoma. Data from randomized trials testing the role of chemotherapy alone are now available. These trials are based on the hypothesis that avoidance of radiation therapy will result in fewer deaths from late-effects, and that long-term survival will be at least comparable and possibly superior. With intermediate periods of follow-up, the results of these randomized trials demonstrate that with chemotherapy alone, disease control is reduced by approximately 5-7%, but this difference has not translated into a survival advantage. While further follow-up is required to evaluate longer term overall survival, current data can be interpreted as showing that a trade-off exists that requires balancing the advantage of superior disease control achieved with inclusion of radiation therapy and minimization of late-effects resulting from use of chemotherapy alone. The balance associated with this trade-off makes chemotherapy alone a legitimate treatment option; patients and clinicians need to be aware of these options in when making treatment decisions.
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