AIDS-Related Lymphomas Treatment & Management

Updated: Sep 09, 2020
  • Author: Christina Poh, MD; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
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Approach Considerations

The optimal treatment for AIDS-lymphoma has yet to be defined. Treatment regimen is determined by disease histological subtype and stage, along with patient performance status and comorbidities, including CD4 cell count, HIV viral load, and prior history of AIDS-related complications. Generally, treatments for AIDS-related lymphoma are extrapolated from their non–AIDS-related lymphoma counterparts, with the addition of antiretroviral therapy (ART). However, several prospective studies have recently clarified the treatment of these lymphomas.

Although ART and chemotherapy may have overlapping side effects, which can make treatment more challenging, all patients should be initiated on both ART and chemotherapy, as concurrent therapy has been associated with improved outcomes. [34, 35]  ART should be continued throughout the duration of chemotherapy.

Due to HIV-associated immunosuppression, which can be worsened with chemotherapy, all patients—regardless of CD4 cell count—should be started on prophylaxis against Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (PJP) and toxoplasmosis.

Of note, the role of rituximab in AIDS-related lymphoma is not as clearly defined as it is in the HIV-negative population, due to rituximab-induced cellular and humoral immunodeficiency, which is worsened with HIV infection. Therefore, the addition of rituximab is generally recommended for CD20+ disease when CD4 count is above 50/μL. [36]


Medical Care

Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL)

Common chemotherapeutic options used in the initial treatment of AIDS-related DLBCL include the following:

Table 2: Common chemotherapeutic options for initial treatment of AIDS-related DLBCL (Open Table in a new window)


Outcomes (complete remission rate %)



63 [37]

most patients with advanced stage disease, recommend addition of rituximab for CD20+ disease when CD4 count over 50 /μL

Dose-adjusted EPOCH

74 [38]

Patients with a high proliferation index or plasmabatic histology; recommend addition of rituximab for CD20+ disease when CD4 count > 50 /μL


45 [39]


CDE = cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, etoposide; CHOP = cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, prednisone; EPOCH = etoposide, prednisone, vincristine, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin (hydroxydaunorubicin)

Central nervous system (CNS) prophylaxis is indicated for patients with double-hit lymphoma or lymphomatous involvement of bone marrow, testes, sinuses, or epidural regions. [40]

Burkitt lymphoma

Common chemotherapeutic options in AIDS-related Burkitt lymphoma include the following:

Table 3: Common chemotherapeutic options for initial treatment of AIDS-related Burkitt Lymphoma (Open Table in a new window)


Complete remission (%)



Not reported [41]

1-year PFS: 69%

2-year PFS: 69%


100 [42]

73-month OS: 100%

Carmen trial

80 [43]

3-year PFS: 70%

3-year OS: 77%

CODOX-M-IVAC = cyclophosphamide, vincristine (Oncovin), doxorubicin, high-dose methotrexate/ifosfamide, etoposide, high-dose cytarabine;

SC-EPOCH-RR = short-course rituximab, etoposide, prednisone, vincristine (Oncovin), cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin (hydroxydaunorubicin), with dose-dense rituximab


CNS prophylaxis is recommended in all patients with Burkitt lymphoma.

Plasmablastic lymphoma

For plasmablastic lymphoma, a highly aggressive lymphoma that is predominantly observed in persons with HIV disease, National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines recommend initial therapy with a more intensive regimen such as the following [40] :

  • HyperCVAD (cyclophosphamide, vincristine, doxorubicin [Adriamycin], dexamethasone, administered on a hyperfractionated schedule)
  • Dose-adjusted EPOCH 

Autologous SCT should be considered in first complete remission in select high-risk patients.​ [44]  

Hodgkin lymphoma

Treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma in HIV-positive patients should be stage-adapted, as follows [45] :

  • Early favorable disease - Two cycles of ABVD (doxorubicin, bleomycin, vinblastine, dacarbazine) with subsequent 20-Gy involved-field radiotherapy
  • Early unfavorable disease -  Four cycles of ABVD followed by 30-Gy involved-field radiotherapy
  • Advanced-stage disease -  Six cycles of BEACOPP (bleomycin, etoposide, doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide, vincristine, procarbazine, prednisolone) or ABVD 

Primary CNS lymphoma

For patients with primary CNS lymphoma who have adequate renal function, high-dose methotrexate, 3 g/m2 every 2 weeks for 6-8 doses, in conjunction with ART has been shown to be effective. [46, 47]  A retrospective study of 51 patients with HIV-related primary CNS lymphoma treated with high-dose methotrexate in conjunction with ART showed median overall survival of 5.7 years. [48] The addition of rituximab to methotrexate has not been associated with a clear benefit and should not be used, especially in the HIV-positive population. [49]  

For patients who cannot tolerate high-dose methotrexate, there is a paucity of evidence for alternative agents. However, whole-brain radiation or temozolomide can be considered.

Primary effusion lymphoma

Standard treatment approaches, such as CHOP, have yielded disappointing results in patients with primary effusion lymphoma (PEL). Therefore, patients with PEL should be offered clinical trials if possible. Novel treatment approaches include bortezomib, [50]  lenalidomide, [51]  or daratumumab. [52]


Treatment for Relapsed or Refractory Disease

Relapsed/refractory disease is treated similarly to its HIV-negative counterpart, with platinum-based salvage regimens such as ICE (ifosfamide, carboplatin, etoposide), DHAP (dexamethasone, high-dose cytarabine [ARA-C], cisplatin [Platinol]), or GDP (gemcitabine, dexamethasone, cisplatin) followed by autologous stem cell transplantation. Several clinical trials have shown that intensive salvage regimens followed by high-dose chemotherapy and autologous bone marrow and stem-cell transplantation are feasible and effective in chemotherapy-sensitive relapsed or refractory AIDS-related lymphoma. [53, 54, 55]

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy has proved effective in the relapsed/refractory setting for some NHL subtypes and is recommended in patients with stable or progressive disease despite salvage therapy. [56] However, no studies have been done to specifically evaluate CAR T-cell therapy in the HIV-positive population.

Allogeneic stem cell transplantation has been performed in selected cases of relapsed HIV-related lymphoma in patients receiving combined antiretroviral therapy. Both reduced-intensity conditioning and myeloablative conditioning proved feasible. However, given the limited amount of experience and the lack of long-term efficacy data, no firm conclusions can be drawn. [57]


Supportive Care

The following is recommended for all patients with AIDS-related lymphoma [40] :

  • Begin growth factor support 24-48 hours after chemotherapy and continue past nadir to recovery of blood counts of each cycle.
  • Continue PJP prophylaxis until CD4 > 200/μL after completion of chemotherapy.
  • Provide antimicrobial prophylaxis with a quinolone during the period of neutropenia.
  • Hold azole antifungals from 24 hours prior through 24 hours post chemotherapy with agents that have CYP3A4 metabolism.
  • Provide  Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) prophylaxis for patients with CD4 < 100/μL.
  • Strongly consider varicella-zoster virus/herpes simplex virus (VZV/HSV) prophylaxis
  • Encourage consultation with an infectious disease specialist for febrile neutropenia in the context of extensive prophylaxis and for refractory diarrhea.

Long-Term Monitoring

Follow-up visits are usually arranged every 3-4 months initially, depending on the individual patient, but these may be tailored as the condition mandates. These visits are utilized to follow response to treatment and to provide psychosocial support for the patient. During follow-up visits, it is important to ask patients about constitutional symptoms, new lymphadenopathy, or pain; patients should be educated about reporting any of these signs and symptoms to the physician.

The physical examination should focus on the presence of enlarged lymph glands and an enlarged liver or spleen. Laboratory workup should be repeated, including the minimum of a complete blood cell count with differential and a comprehensive metabolic panel. Imaging should be done only if there is suspicion of recurrence.