Background: High-dose chemotherapy followed by transplantation of autologous haemopoietic stem cells (BEAM-HSCT) is frequently used to treat patients with relapsed Hodgkin's disease. We aimed to compare this treatment with conventional aggressive chemotherapy without stem-cell transplantation (Dexa-BEAM). Methods: 161 patients between 16 and 60 years of age with relapsed Hodgkin's disease were randomly assigned two cycles of Dexa-BEAM (dexamethasone and carmustine, etoposide, cytarabine, and melphalan) and either two further courses of Dexa-BEAM or high-dose BEAM and transplantation of haemopoietic stem cells. Only patients with chemosensitive disease (complete or partial remission after two courses of Dexa-BEAM) proceeded to further treatment. The primary endpoint was freedom from treatment failure for patients with chemosensitive disease. Analysis was per protocol. Findings: 17 patients were excluded from the study after randomisation (ten given Dexa-BEAM and seven given BEAM-HSCT). Median follow-up was 39 months (IQR 3-78). Freedom from treatment failure at 3 years was significantly better for patients given BEAM-HSCT (55%) than for those on Dexa-BEAM (34%; difference -21%, 95% CI -39.87 to -2.13; p=0.019). Overall survival of patients given either treatment did not differ significantly. Interpretation: High-dose BEAM and transplantation of haemopoietic stem cells improves freedom from treatment failure in patients with chemosensitive first relapse of Hodgkin's disease irrespective of length of initial remission.
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