Perineural invasion is associated with increased relapse after external beam radiotherapy for men with low-risk prostate cancer and may be a marker for occult, high-grade cancer

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2004 Jan 1;58(1):19-24. doi: 10.1016/s0360-3016(03)01433-0.


Purpose: To investigate the risk of postradiotherapy prostate-specific antigen (PSA) failure on the basis of pretreatment risk factors in prostate cancer patients with and without perineural invasion (PNI) in prostate biopsy specimens and to explain the observation that otherwise low-risk patients with PNI experience decreased freedom from PSA failure after external beam radiotherapy (RT).

Methods and materials: The study cohort consisted of 381 patients who underwent RT between 1989 and 2000 for clinically localized prostate cancer. A single genitourinary pathologist scored the absence or presence of PNI on all prostate biopsy specimens. Patients were divided into low-, intermediate- and high-risk subgroups on the basis of their 1992 American Joint Committee on Cancer T-stage, pretreatment PSA level, and Gleason score. Cox regression uni- and multivariate analyses were performed to evaluate whether the presence or absence of PNI in the biopsy specimen was a predictor of the time to post-RT PSA failure for patients in each pretreatment risk group. PSA failure was defined using the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology consensus definition. Actuarial PSA failure-free survival was estimated using the Kaplan-Meier method, and comparisons were performed using the log-rank test.

Results: Cox regression univariate analysis revealed that PNI was a significant predictor of the time to PSA failure in the low-risk (p = 0.04) and high-risk (p = 0.03) cohorts. The 5-year PSA failure-free survival rate was 50% vs. 80% (p = 0.04) in low-risk patients, 70% vs. 75% (p = 0.72) in intermediate-risk patients, and 29% vs. 53% (p = 0.03) in high-risk patients with and without PNI, respectively. Cox regression multivariate analysis within the high-risk group revealed that a PSA level > or =20 ng/mL (p = 0.01) and Gleason score > or =8 (p = 0.02), but not PNI, were the only significant predictors of the time to PSA failure after RT. However, an association was found between the presence of PNI in the needle biopsy specimen and a biopsy Gleason score of 8-10 (p = 0.06). The association was stronger between the presence of PNI in the needle biopsy specimen and a biopsy Gleason score of 7-10 (p = 0. 033).

Conclusion: A decrement in PSA outcome after RT for low-risk patients with PNI-positive biopsy specimens was found. The association between PNI and high Gleason score provides a possible explanation for the loss of statistical significance of PNI in the Cox regression multivariate analysis of the high-risk cohort. The data suggest that PNI found in the biopsy specimen of an otherwise low-risk patient predicts for occult high-grade disease that is missed owing to the sampling error associated with prostate biopsy. The association between PNI and a high Gleason score argues for the use of more aggressive therapy, such as hormonal therapy with RT and/or dose escalation, in these select patients.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Biopsy
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prostate / innervation
  • Prostate / pathology*
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen / blood*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / blood*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Radiotherapy, Conformal
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Treatment Failure


  • Prostate-Specific Antigen