PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Despite several reports showing the superiority of autologous stem cell transplantation over conventional chemotherapy in the salvage treatment of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, its use as part of first-line therapy in this disease is still controversial. The review highlights the most relevant studies on autologous stem cell transplantation for non-Hodgkin lymphoma at diagnosis published over the past year. RECENT FINDINGS: Several recent studies have shown that autologous stem cell transplantation may offer survival benefits in patients with both diffuse large cell lymphoma and follicular cell lymphoma whose prognostic features are poor. An advantage of autologous stem cell transplantation has also been documented for other non-Hodgkin lymphoma subtypes, in particular mantle-cell lymphoma, in which autologous stem cell transplantation is probably the most effective first-line option presently available. Nevertheless, whether autologous stem cell transplantation is definitely better than conventional chemotherapy is still under discussion, and the issue is still less clear, given the new opportunities offered by rituximab combined with chemotherapy. Autologous stem cell transplantation may also benefit from the addition of rituximab as an in vivo purging agent. Thus, large randomized trials are required to fully define the role of autologous stem cell transplantation in first-line treatment for high-risk non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Such trials should compare autologous stem cell transplantation with chemotherapy, both supplemented with rituximab, in the most frequent CD20+ lymphoma subtypes. The up-front use of autologous stem cell transplantation might find support from the recent observation that patients who do not respond to this treatment may still have a good chance of being rescued by reduced-intensity allogeneic transplantation. SUMMARY: Autologous stem cell transplantation remains a valid research strategy in first-line therapy and, along with new agents and nonmyeloablative allogeneic transplantation, may help to increase the cure rate for high-risk non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
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