Study objective: Typical pulmonary carcinoid tumors are well-differentiated neuroendocrine tumors that are associated with good patient survival rates, while atypical carcinoid tumors are more aggressive and have worse patient survival rates. Because these tumors rarely involve the thoracic lymph nodes at presentation, it is currently unknown to what extent the presence of thoracic lymph node metastases at the time of diagnosis influences patient survival.
Methods: A computerized search of the medical records for pulmonary carcinoid tumor at the Mayo Clinic from 1976 to 1997 revealed 517 patients, from which we identified 36 patients with pulmonary carcinoid tumors involving regional thoracic lymph nodes but without distant disease. For each patient, we reviewed the tumor histology, stage, and outcome. In addition, because the histologic criteria for the diagnosis of carcinoid tumors had changed significantly during the time of the study, we reexamined all of the histologic specimens using the current World Health Organization (WHO) criteria for classifying pulmonary neuroendocrine tumors.
Results: After reclassification with the WHO criteria for neuroendocrine tumors, 23 patients had typical carcinoid tumors with thoracic lymph node involvement. At the last follow-up, 19 patients had no evidence of disease (NED), 2 patients had developed systemic metastases (SM) and are still alive, and 2 patients had died. Eleven patients had atypical carcinoid tumors with thoracic lymph node involvement. At the last follow-up, four patients had NED, seven patients had developed SM within a median time of 17 months, and six patients with SM died shortly thereafter (median survival time, 25.5 months), while one is still alive. Two patients had been reclassified with large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma at the time of this review; both of these patients had developed SM (at 4 months and 21 months after diagnosis) and had died (at 15 months and 21 months after diagnosis, respectively).
Conclusions: These data suggest that patients with atypical pulmonary carcinoid tumors with regional lymph node metastases have a high likelihood of developing recurrent disease if treated with surgical resection alone and have significantly worse outcome (p < 0.001) compared to those patients with typical carcinoid tumors with thoracic lymph node involvement.