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Cancer. 1991 Jun 1;67(11):2756-65.

Primary central nervous system lymphoma in acquired immune deficiency syndrome. A clinical and pathologic study with results of treatment with radiation.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, New York.


Primary central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma occurs frequently in patients with the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Seventeen patients with AIDS and biopsy-proven CNS lymphoma were treated with whole-brain radiation. At presentation, most patients were severely debilitated from previous AIDS-related illnesses. Patients generally had focal neurologic symptoms such as seizures and paralysis. Headaches and mental status changes, often noticed after hospital admission, seldom brought our patients to seek medical attention. Computed tomography (CT) scan showed low-density, contrast-enhancing, mass lesions with variable amounts of peritumor edema. Size, location, and pattern of contrast enhancement of the lesions varied. No specific pattern was seen that could be used to distinguish between CNS lymphoma, toxoplasmosis, or other CNS diseases that occur in patients with AIDS. Biopsy results showed angiocentric, high-grade, large cell tumors with frequent necrosis. Immunohistochemical analysis showed B-cell phenotype with small amounts of T-cells, presumably reactive. All patients received irradiation to the whole brain with parallel opposed fields. A variety of doses and treatment regimens were used. Mean survival was only 72 days. Survival was longer in patients with higher pretreatment Karnofsky scores. The correlation between dose and survival was not significant. At completion of therapy, most patients showed improvement in Karnofsky score and had partial improvement in neurologic symptoms. CNS lymphomas in patients with AIDS are responsive to radiation. Posttreatment CT scans showed regression of tumors. Autopsy examinations showed regression of tumors, but also showed concurrent CNS infections, AIDS encephalopathy, and radiation-induced changes within the normal CNS tissue. Opportunistic infections rather than cerebral herniation or uncontrolled lymphoma was the most common cause of death.

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