Hodgkin Lymphoma (HL) is a unique disease entity both in its pathology and the young patient population that it primarily affects. Although cure rates are high, survivorship can be linked with significant long-term morbidity associated with both chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The most significant recent advances have been with the use of the anti-CD30-drug conjugated antibody brentuximab vedotin (BV) and inhibitors of program death 1 (PD-1). HL is genetically wired to up-regulate program death ligand 1 (PD-L1) in >95% of cases, creating a state of so-called “T cell exhaustion”, which can be reversed with immune checkpoint-inhibitor blockade. The overall and complete response rates to PD-1 inhibitors in patients with relapsed or refractory HL are 70% and 20%, respectively, with a long median duration of response of ~16 months. In fact, PD-1 inhibitors can benefit a wide spectrum of relapsed HL patients, including some who have “progressive disease” by strict response criteria. We review the biology of HL, with a focus on the immune micro-environment and mechanisms of immune evasion. We also provide the rationale supporting the use of PD-1 inhibitors in HL and highlight some of the challenges of monitoring disease response in patients treated with this immunotherapy.
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