Central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma is a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that starts in white blood cells. There are two types of CNS lymphoma:
- Primary CNS lymphoma is usually confined to areas of the nervous system. These include the eyes, brain, spine, and cerebrospinal fluid (the liquid around the brain and spinal cord).
- Secondary CNS lymphoma forms in other parts of the body and later spreads to the nervous system.
CNS lymphoma is rare. Primary CNS lymphoma is diagnosed in about 1,500 people in the United States every year. It makes up only 4 percent of all tumors of the nervous system and only 4 to 6 percent of all non-Hodgkin lymphomas.
About 10 to 15 percent of people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma that is widespread throughout their body will eventually get secondary CNS lymphoma.
The incidence of both primary and secondary CNS lymphoma is going up, especially in people over age 60. Researchers are not sure why this is happening.
Treatment for CNS Lymphoma
Unlike other cancers of the nervous system, such as brain tumors, CNS lymphoma often responds to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. About half of people with primary CNS lymphoma respond well to treatment. Some people can be cured, especially those who are younger. However, even for those who respond to treatment, the disease can come back five to ten years after it is first diagnosed.
For people who don’t respond to existing treatments or whose disease has come back, investigators at Memorial Sloan Kettering are conducting research to find better approaches.
Even for people with CNS lymphoma that is well controlled with chemotherapy and radiation, these treatments can lead to long-term side effects. These side effects are also driving the pursuit of better, more targeted therapies.