First NCCN guideline on hematopoietic cell transplantation focuses on GVHD


Recommendations for the diagnosis and management of acute and chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) are the central focus of the first National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guideline on hematopoietic cell transplantation.

The guideline presents detailed recommendations for the evaluation of hematopoietic cell transplant (HCT) recipients, and an extensive section on the diagnosis and workup of GVHD, including information on staging and grading of acute GVHD, grading of chronic GVHD, treatment response criteria, and suggested systemic therapies for steroid-refractory disease.

“We wanted to both build on the commonly used approach to stage and treat graft-versus-host disease, and make sure that this information is readily available for physicians-in-training and young physicians who are learning about transplants,” said guideline committee chair Ayman Saad, MB BCh, of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute in Columbus, Ohio.

In an interview, Dr. Saad emphasized that an important goal of the guidelines is to encourage general oncologists to recognize early signs of GVHD and refer potential candidates to transplant centers for further evaluation.

“We also urge oncologists who may be caring for patients after HCT to familiarize themselves with the varied manifestations of GVHD – a very common and significant posttransplant complication – and to consult with transplant providers to optimize their ongoing care. The guidelines explain how to diagnose and treat this condition in order to achieve the best possible outcomes,” guideline panel member Alison W. Loren, MD, director of blood and marrow transplantation at Abraham Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, said in a statement.

The guideline includes links to other NCCN guidelines for diseases where HCT is a common therapeutic option, including leukemias, myeloid malignancies, lymphomas, central nervous system cancers, and testicular cancer.

The HCT guideline includes:

  • Pretransplant recipient evaluation with recommendations for clinical assessment and imaging.
  • Diagnosis and workup of GVHD, with separate algorithms for suspected acute or chronic GVHD.
  • Specific interventions for management of acute GVHD with corticosteroids or other systemic agents.
  • Chronic GVHD diagnosis by organ site and symptoms, with a severity scoring system.
  • Chronic GVHD steroid response definitions and criteria.
  • Suggested systemic agents for steroid-refractory GVHD.

One feature that is unusual for an NCCN guideline document is a page of photographs to assist clinicians in diagnosing range-of-motion abnormalities in the shoulder, elbow, hand, and ankle of patients with suspected or confirmed GVHD. Dr. Saad said that future iterations of the guideline will include additional photos to help clinicians develop a visual repertoire of potential GVHD signs.

Future versions will also include a discussion section and more comprehensive information on other common complications following HCT transplant, as well as management of posttransplant relapse.

Ideally, the guideline will help clinicians document and justify clinical decisions surrounding HCT and GVHD management in discussions with third-party payers, Dr. Saad said.

“Sometimes we struggle with payers when we want to use a certain modality to treat GVHD, and they respond ‘that’s not approved,’ or ‘that’s not a common indication,’ et cetera,” he said. “What we’re trying to put here are the commonly used therapies that most, but not all, experts agree on, and we can use this to negotiate with payers.”

He also emphasized that the guideline is meant to be instructive rather than prescriptive and is not meant to hinder innovations that may emerge from clinical trials.

“We would appreciate any feedback from non-NCCN centers as well as experts at NCCN centers, and we’ll be more than happy to address any concerns or criticisms they have,” he said.

Dr. Saad reported financial relationships with Actinium and Incysus Biomedical. Dr. Loren has previously reported having no disclosures.

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