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Primary lymphoma of the brain

Primary lymphoma of the brain is cancer of white blood cells that starts in the brain.

Causes

The cause of primary brain lymphoma is not known.

Patients who have a weakened immune system are at high risk of primary lymphoma of the brain. Common causes of a weakened immune system include HIV and having had an organ transplant (especially heart transplant).

Primary lymphoma of the brain may be linked to Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), especially in people with HIV. This is the virus that causes mononucleosis.

Primary brain lymphoma is more common in people ages 45 to 70. The rate of primary brain lymphoma is rising. But this cancer is still very rare.

Symptoms

Symptoms of primary brain lymphoma may include any of the following:

  • Changes in speech
  • Changes in vision
  • Confusion
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Headaches
  • Leaning to one side when walking
  • Loss of coordination
  • Numbness to hot, cold, and pain
  • Personality changes
  • Seizures
  • Weakness in hands
  • Weight loss

Exams and Tests

The following tests may be done to help diagnose a primary lymphoma of the brain:

Treatment

Primary lymphoma of the brain is usually first treated with corticosteroids to control swelling and improve symptoms. The main treatment is with chemotherapy.

Younger patients may receive high-dose chemotherapy, followed by an autologous stem cell transplant.

Radiation therapy of the whole brain may be done after chemotherapy.

Boosting the immune system, such as in those with HIV, may also be tried.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Without treatment, patients with primary brain lymphoma survive for less than 2 months. Patients who are treated with chemotherapy often survive 3 to 4 years or more. This depends on whether the tumor stays in remission. Survival may improve with autologous stem cell transplant.

Possible Complications

Possible complications include:

  • Chemotherapy side effects, including low blood counts
  • Radiation side effects, including confusion, headaches, nervous system (neurologic) problems, and tissue death
  • Return (recurrence) of the lymphoma

Alternative Names

Brain lymphoma; Cerebral lymphoma; Primary lymphoma of the central nervous system; Lymphoma - brain

References

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Non-Hodgkin's Lymphomas. Version 2.2014. Available at: http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/nhl.pdf. Accessed: March 23, 2014.

National Cancer Institute. PDQ Primary CNS Lymphoma Treatment. Bethesda, Md: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified: Jan. 3, 2014. Available at: http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/primary-CNS-lymphoma/HealthProfessional. Accessed: March 23, 2014.

Update Date: 3/23/2014

Updated by: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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