Clinical utility of brain biopsy for presumed CNS relapse of systemic lymphoma

Desmond A. Brown, Anshit Goyal, Kent R. Richter, Jack M. Haglin, Benjamin T. Himes, Victor M. Lu, Kendall Snyder, Joshua Hughes, Paul A. Decker, Michael Opoku-Darko, Michael J. Link, Terry C. Burns, Ian F. Parney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE The objective of this study was to determine the frequency with which brain biopsy for presumed CNS relapse of systemic hematological malignancies yields new, actionable diagnostic information. Hematological malignancies represent a disparate group of genetic and histopathological disorders. Proclivity for brain involvement is dependent on the unique entity and may occur synchronously or metasynchronously with the systemic lesion. Diffuse large B-cell lymphomas (DLBCLs) have a high propensity for brain involvement. Patients in remission from systemic DLBCL may present with a lesion suspicious for brain relapse. These patients often undergo brain biopsy. The authors' a priori hypothesis was that brain biopsy in patients with a history of systemic DLBCL and a new brain MRI lesion would have lower diagnostic utility compared with patients with non-DLBCL systemic malignancies. METHODS The authors performed a retrospective review of patients who underwent brain biopsy between 2000 and 2019. Inclusion criteria were patients ≥ 18 years of age with a prior systemic hematological malignancy in remission presenting with a new brain MRI lesion concerning for CNS relapse. Patients with a history of any CNS neoplasms, demyelinating disorders, or active systemic disease were excluded. The main outcome was the proportion of patients with a distinct histopathological brain diagnosis compared with the systemic malignancy. The authors secondarily assessed overall survival, procedure-related morbidity, and 30-day mortality. RESULTS Sixty patients met inclusion criteria (40 males and 20 females); the median age at brain biopsy was 67 years (range 23-88 years). The median follow-up was 8.5 months (range 0.1-231 months). Thirty-nine (65.0%) patients had DLBCL and 21 (35%) had non-DLBCL malignancies. Thirty-five of 36 (97.2%) patients with prior systemic DLBCL and a diagnostic biopsy had histopathological confirmation of the original systemic disease versus 0 of 21 patients with non- DLBCL systemic malignancies (p < 0.001). Morbidity and 30-day mortality were 8.3% and 10.0%, respectively; 2 of 6 30-day mortalities were directly attributable to the biopsy. The median overall survival following brain biopsy was 10.8 months. CONCLUSIONS Patients with a history of systemic DLBCL and presumed CNS relapse gained minimal clinical benefit from brain biopsy but were at high risk of morbidity and mortality. In patients with a history of non-DLBCL systemic malignancies, brain biopsy remained critical given the high likelihood for discovery of distinct diagnostic entities. It was determined that patients with a prior systemic DLBCL and presumed brain relapse should likely receive empirical therapy obviating treatment delay and the risks of brain biopsy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)30-39
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of neurosurgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • CNS relapse of lymphoma
  • brain biopsy
  • diffuse large B-cell lymphoma
  • oncology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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