Lymphoma (Primary CNS)

General Information

This summary discusses the treatment of primary central nervous system lymphoma.

Lymphoma is a disease in which cancer (malignant) cells are found in the lymph system. The lymph system is made up of thin tubes that branch, like blood vessels, into all parts of the body. Lymph vessels carry lymph, a colorless, watery fluid that contains white blood cells called lymphocytes. Along the network of vessels are groups of small, bean-shaped organs called lymph nodes. Clusters of lymph nodes are found in the underarm, pelvis, neck, and abdomen. The lymph nodes make and store infection-fighting cells. The spleen (an organ in the upper abdomen that makes lymphocytes and filters old blood cells from the blood), the thymus (a small organ beneath the breastbone), and the tonsils (an organ in the throat) are also part of the lymph system.

Primary central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma is found in the brain and/or spine, and has not spread to other parts of the body. This disease is often seen in patients who have acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) or other disorders of the immune system. Treatment is critical for patients with primary CNS lymphoma.

Treatment for primary CNS lymphoma is more successful for patients who are able to walk, are younger than 60 years old, and who do not have AIDS or other disorders of the immune system. When the tumor continues to grow, it usually does not spread beyond the CNS or the eye.


There are 3 types of treatments used for patients with primary CNS lymphoma:

-surgery (removing the cancer)
-radiation therapy (using high-dose x-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors)
-chemotherapy (using drugs to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors)

Surgery usually does not benefit the patient because CNS tumors are spread throughout the brain and/or spine. Standard therapy for primary CNS lymphoma is radiation therapy. Despite treatment, the lymphoma is likely to return. Other treatment includes intrathecal chemotherapy (drugs put directly into the brain or spinal fluid) and standard chemotherapy, with or without radiation therapy.

High-dose radiation therapy to the brain can make it difficult for patients to think and reason. Chemotherapy, however, given alone or before radiation therapy may lower the risk that this will happen.

Patients who have AIDS-related primary CNS lymphoma usually have very advanced immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections, and are unable to survive other infections despite receiving treatment for lymphoma. Radiation therapy (with or without chemotherapy) appears to be most beneficial for patients who are HIV-positive without having prior infections or tumors, and patients who have no symptoms other than those caused by primary CNS lymphoma (Refer to summary on AIDS-Related Lymphoma Treatment for more information).

The information on this page was obtained from the National Cancer Institute. The National Cancer Institute provides accurate, up-to-date information on many types of cancer, information on clinical trials, resources for people dealing with cancer, and information for researchers and health professionals.

The National Cancer Institute is in no way affiliated with the Mary Stolfa Cancer Foundation.

The information on this web site is provided for general information only. It is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultations with qualified health professionals who are familiar with your individual medical needs. The MSCF disclaims all obligations and liabilities for damages arising from the use or attempted use of the information, including but not limited to direct, indirect, special, and consequential damages, attorneys' and experts' fees and court costs. Any use of the information will be at the risk of the user.

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