Objective: To assess the value of an elevated (> 30 mm/h) Westergren erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) for predicting early relapse and survival after therapy in patients with clinical stage I or II Hodgkin disease.
Interventions: We studied 772 patients with early-stage Hodgkin disease who had participated in two separate multicenter clinical trials. Both trials used modern field radiotherapy and, in some patients, multi-agent chemotherapy.
Main Results: The ESR patterns were based on pretherapy and post-therapy assessments: pattern 1, always normal (n = 261); pattern 2, elevated before therapy but normal immediately after therapy (n = 121); pattern 3, elevated before therapy but normal within 3 months after therapy (n = 89); pattern 4, always elevated (n = 48); pattern 5, normal before therapy but oscillating between normal and elevated after therapy (n = 150); pattern 6, elevated before therapy but oscillating between normal and elevated after therapy (n = 130). By multivariate analysis, independent of whether or not patients received chemotherapy in the initial therapy protocol, ESR patterns 4, 5, and 6 were shown to be the best predictors for early relapse and survival when patients were stratified according to the type of chemotherapy received and the number of involved nodal areas. Patients with ESR pattern 4 had a relative risk for death seven times that of patients with patterns 1, 2, or 3. Early relapse was the second most important factor predicting death, irrespective of ESR; patients with early relapse and ESR patterns 1, 2, or 3 had a relative risk for death of 4.5, and those with early relapse and ESR patterns 4, 5, or 6 had a relative risk for death of 15. Whether or not chemotherapy was given initially did not change the relative risk, which shows that ESR, not initial therapy, was the predictor for early relapse and death due to Hodgkin disease.
Conclusion: An unexplained elevated ESR after therapy, especially after modern radiotherapy, independent of other factors, strongly suggests the presence of aggressive and resistant Hodgkin disease. An elevated ESR is predictive of early relapse and poor prognosis; its presence justifies early aggressive therapy.