Minimal residual disease (MRD) following sequential administration of CHOP and rituximab was studied in previously untreated patients with follicular lymphoma. At diagnosis, the presence of Bcl-2/IgH-positive cells in the peripheral blood (PB) and/or bone marrow (BM) was demonstrated in all patients (n = 128) by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis. Patients who achieved a clinical response following CHOP but remained PCR-positive were eligible for rituximab (375 mg/m 2 intravenously, weekly for 4 weeks). After CHOP, 57% achieved a complete response (CR), 37% a partial response (PR), and 6% were nonresponders (NR). At this stage, patients proving PCR-negative (n = 41) or failing to achieve a clinical response (n = 8) were excluded from rituximab treatment. Seventy-seven patients received rituximab and entered a scheduled MRD follow-up program. At the first molecular follow-up (+12 weeks), 59% had converted to PCR negativity in the BM and PB, with a further increase documented at the second control (+28 weeks) with 74% PCR negative. At the last molecular follow-up (+44 weeks), 63% of the patients remained PCR negative. At 3 years, the estimated overall survival of all patients is 95% (95% confidence interval [Cl], 86-98). For patients achieving PCR-negative status following CHOP and therefore excluded from rituximab treatment, freedom from recurrence (FFR) was 52% (95% Cl, 28-71). For patients treated with rituximab, a durable PCR-negative status was associated with a better clinical outcome since FFR was 57% (95% Cl, 23-81) compared with 20% (95% Cl, 4-46) in patients who never achieved or lost the molecular negativity (P <.001).
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