Original Research

Review of Radiologic Considerations in an Immunocompetent Patient With Primary Central Nervous System Lymphoma

Primary central nervous system lymphoma is increasingly seen in immunocompetent patients and should be considered in any patient with multiple nervous system lesions.

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Central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma can be classified into 2 categories: primary CNS lymphoma (PCNSL), which includes disease limited to brain, eyes, spinal cord; and leptomeninges without coexisting or previous systemic lymphoma. Secondary CNS lymphoma (SCNSL) is essentially metastatic disease from a systemic primary site.1 The focus of this case presentation is PCNSL, with an emphasis on imaging characteristics and differential diagnosis.

The median age at diagnosis for PCNSL is 65 years, and the overall incidence has been decreasing since the mid-1990s, likely related to the increased use of highly-active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) in patients with AIDS.2,3 Although overall incidence has decreased, incidence in the elderly population has increased.4 Historically, PCNSL has been considered an AIDS-defining illness.5 These patients, among other immunocompromised patients, such as those on chronic immunosuppressive therapy, are at a higher risk for developing the malignancy.6

Clinical presentation varies because of the location of CNS involvement and may present with headache, mood or personality disturbances, or focal neurologic deficits. Seizures are less likely due to the tendency of PCNSL to spare gray matter. Initial workup generally includes a head computed tomography (CT) scan, as well as a contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance image (MRI), which may help direct clinicians to the appropriate diagnosis. However, there is significant overlap between the imaging characteristics of PCNSL and numerous other disease processes, including glioblastoma and demyelination. The imaging characteristics of PCNSL are considerably different depending on the patient’s immune status.7

This case illustrates a rare presentation of PCNSL in an immunocompetent patient whose MRI characteristics were seemingly more consistent with those seen in patients with immunodeficiency. The main differential diagnoses and key imaging characteristics, which may help obtain accurate diagnosis, will be discussed.

Case Presentation

A 72-year-old male veteran presented with a 2-month history of subjective weakness in his upper and lower extremities progressing to multiple falls at home. He had no significant medical history other than a thymectomy at age 15 for an enlarged thymus, which per patient report, was benign. An initial laboratory test that included vitamin B12, folate, thyroid-stimulating hormone, complete blood cell count, and comprehensive metabolic panel, were unremarkable, with a white blood cell count of 8.5 K/uL. The initial neurologic evaluation did not show any focal neurologic deficits; however, during the initial hospital stay, the patient developed increasing lower extremity weakness on examination. A noncontrast CT head scan showed extensive nonspecific hypodensities within the periventricular white matter (Figure 1). A contrast-enhanced MRI showed enhancing lesions involving the corpus callosum, left cerebral peduncle, and right temporal lobe (Figures 2, 3, and 4). These lesions also exhibited significant restricted diffusion and a mild amount of surrounding vasogenic edema. The working diagnosis after the MRI included primary CNS lymphoma, multifocal glioblastoma, and tumefactive demyelinating disease. The patient was started on IV steroids and transferred for neurosurgical evaluation and biopsy at an outside hospital. The frontal lesion was biopsied, and the initial frozen section was consistent with lymphoma; a bone marrow biopsy was negative. The workup for immunodeficiency was unremarkable. Pathology revealed high-grade B-cell lymphoma, and the patient began a chemotherapy regimen.


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