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Patients with advanced aggressive B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas (NHL) are usually treated with rituximab in combination with chemotherapy. However, disease relapse rates are high. Radiotherapy (RT) has been shown to be efficacious in treating early-stage NHL but its role in advanced stage diseases is unclear. We performed a systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing chemotherapy with RT to chemotherapy alone in patients with newly diagnosed advanced aggressive NHL. We searched online databases and pooled similar outcome estimates. For time-to-event outcomes, we estimated hazard ratios (HR) for overall survival (OS) and event-free survival (EFS) using the fixed-effect model. Two RCTs involving 254 patients met inclusion criteria. The trials were single-centre RCTs with follow-up period of five and ten years. Both trials were conducted in the pre-rituximab era. Patients treated with consolidation RT had better OS (HR for mortality 0.61; 95 % CI 0.38 to 0.97) and EFS (HR for mortality 0.67; 95 % CI 0.46 to 0.98) compared to those who received no RT. There was an apparent benefit of RT on local control (OR 0.09; 95 % CI 0.04 to 0.20); although this was estimated as a dichotomous rather than time-to-event outcome. Limited evidence shows benefits of consolidation RT in advanced aggressive NHL. However, we were not able to estimate the effect size with confidence due to small number of trials and sample size. We cannot recommend routine consolidation RT in advanced aggressive NHL. More RCTs with the inclusion of rituximab and PET-CT monitoring are needed.
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