Primary splenic lymphoma is rare, representing less than 2% of all lymphomas.1However, B-cell lymphomas are seen with increasing frequency in patients with chronic hepatitis C. This patient was known to have a splenic mass that was being followed up with serial CT scans because the working diagnosis at the time was a hepatoma metastatic to the spleen. Recently, the mass increased in size and the patient underwent a splenectomy. The patient also had a corresponding rise in his α-fetoprotein level. After the splenectomy, the α-fetoprotein level decreased significantly. However, it did not return to the normal range.
Several epidemiologic studies suggest that hepatitis C virus may be involved in the pathogenesis of B-cell lymphomas.2These may range from low-grade to high-grade non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. This patient had a known mass in his spleen that suddenly increased in size. Therefore, it is possible that he had a low-grade, marginal-zone lymphoma that became transformed by the hepatitis C into a high-grade lymphoma.
α-Fetoprotein is a tumor marker that is used to evaluate patients for hepatocellular carcinoma. Also, elevated α-fetoprotein levels are frequently seen with certain germ cell tumors. However, to our knowledge, there is only 1 case report in the literature that reports a correlation between an elevated α-fetoprotein level and a lymphoma.3Therefore, it is of uncertain significance that the α-fetoprotein level rose in conjunction with an increase in size of the lymphoma and then decreased once the lymphoma was removed. It is conceivable that the rise in the α-fetoprotein level is related to the hepatitis C virus inflammatory response. However, we would not have expected it to decrease after the splenectomy.
Further studies and a better understanding of hepatitis C viral infection will help us explain the association between B-cell lymphomas and hepatitis C. However, any patient who has hepatitis C should undergo close surveillance for both hepatomas and lymphomas.
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Correspondence:John Brems, MD, Department of Surgery, Loyola University, 2160 S First Ave, Bldg 110, Room 3268, Maywood, IL 60153 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Accepted for Publication:November 11, 2008.
Author Contributions:Study concept and design: Maglione and Brems. Acquisition of data: Maglione, Yong, and Brems. Analysis and interpretation of data: Yong, Velankar, and Brems. Drafting of the manuscript: Maglione and Yong. Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Maglione, Yong, Velankar, and Brems. Administrative, technical, and material support: Maglione, Yong, Velankar, and Brems. Study supervision: Yong and Brems.
Financial Disclosure:None reported.
Image of the Month—Diagnosis. Arch Surg. 2009;144(7):691-692. doi:10.1001/archsurg.2009.119-b