The Adverse Consequences of Initial Watchful Waiting for Patients With Follicular Lymphoma Academic Article uri icon

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  • Background

    Patients with low tumor burden follicular lymphoma (FL) are commonly managed with watchful waiting (WW). The incidence of organ dysfunction and/or transformation at disease progression, and subsequent impact on outcomes is poorly understood.

    Patients and methods

    Patients managed with WW during 1994 to 2011 were identified through the Alberta Lymphoma Database. Individuals receiving immediate rituximab (R)-chemotherapy were identified as a comparator group to those on WW who received R-chemotherapy at progression. Endpoints included transformation, organ dysfunction, time to progression, time to next treatment, progression-free survival (PFS) after chemotherapy, and overall survival (OS).


    We identified 238 patients managed with WW (28.9% of registry patients) during this 17-year period. The median follow up was 8.2 years. At a median of 29.9 months, 58 (24.4%) of these patients developed organ dysfunction and/or transformation. Of 169 (71%) patients who required therapy, 10-year OS was inferior for those with transformation (hazard ratio, 2.88; P = .002) and organ dysfunction (hazard ratio, 2.10; P = .028). PFS after R-chemotherapy and OS in patients without organ dysfunction and/or transformation was not affected by the initial WW period, compared with immediate R-chemotherapy. WW resulted in increased high risk FL International Prognostic Index scores at initiation of R-chemotherapy (45% vs. 20%), and more frequent transformation at progression (5-year risk, 17.8% vs. 3.5%; P < .001). Baseline characteristics did not predict organ dysfunction.


    Patients with FL accepting initial WW should be aware of the 1 in 4 risk of organ dysfunction and/or transformation, and subsequent inferior OS. Physicians should consider surveillance for progression to consider early therapy.


  • Davies, Gwynivere
  • Ghosh, Sunita
  • Oh, Danielle H
  • Manna, Mita
  • Peters, Anthea C
  • Stewart, Colin A
  • Stewart, Douglas A

publication date

  • December 2018

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