We investigated micrometastasis in lymph nodes by detecting carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) mRNA. A total of 400 lymph nodes obtained from 21 patients with esophageal carcinoma were examined by CEA-specific reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Serial sections of positive lymph nodes were reexamined histologically and immunohistologically. Twenty-seven lymph nodes of 11 patients were diagnosed as being positive by conventional histologic examination. CEA-mRNA positivity was found in 18 of 21 patients. Among 373 histologically negative nodes, 79 (21.2%) were positive for CEA mRNA. Of these, micrometastasis was detected in 2 by histological reexamination and in 11 by immunohistochemical staining using cytokeratin antibody. Two of 6 RT-PCR-positive patients (33.3%) had recurrent disease. Four of 11 patients (36.4%) whose nodal involvement was discovered by routine histological examination also had recurrent cancer. CEA-specific RT-PCR detected micrometastasis in lymph nodes at a higher rate than histological or immunohistochemical analysis of serial sections. Since the incidence of CEA-mRNA positivity is high in the lymph nodes of esophageal cancer patients except for those with early cancer, these patients should be treated with adjuvant therapy.
Copyright 2000 S. Karger AG, Basel