Background: The clinicopathologic significance of micrometastasis (MM) and tumor cell microinvolvement (TCM) in regional lymph nodes as identified by immunohistochemical staining for cytokeratin expression was evaluated in patients with node-negative gastric cancer.
Methods: MM was defined as tumor cells with stromal reaction, and TCM was defined as individual tumor cells without stromal reaction. We investigated 1761 lymph nodes obtained from 67 gastric cancer patients whose diagnosis showed no lymph node metastasis by routine histological examination. The depth of tumor invasion was T1 (submucosa) in 33 patients and T2 (muscularis propria and subserosa) in 34 patients. The lymph nodes were examined immunohistochemically for the presence of tumor cells using anti-cytokeratin AE1/AE3 monoclonal antibody. Both the biopsy tumor specimens obtained prior to surgery and the resected primary tumors were immunostained with E-cadherin (E-cad) monoclonal antibody.
Results: Thirty (1.5%) of the 1761 lymph nodes showed MM and/or TCM. MM with or without TCM was found in 10 patients, and TCM alone was found in 4 patients; 6 (18.2%) of the 33 patients with T1 tumor and 8 (23.5%) of the 34 patients with T2 tumor had occult lymph node metastasis. The 5-year survival rate was worse among those with MM with or without TCM, than among those without MM. Nearly all of the patients with MM and/or TCM had reduced or negative E-cad expression in the primary tumor.
Conclusions: We demonstrated that the incidence of MM and/or TCM in the lymph nodes of patients with gastric cancer is quite high, and that such metastasis is associated with the prognosis of patients with pN0. Examination of E-cad expression in biopsy tumor specimens may be useful for predicting MM and/or TCM.