Purpose: The aim of this study was to conduct a systematic review, and where possible meta-analyses, of molecular and biological tumor markers described in neuroblastoma, and to establish an evidence-based perspective on their clinical value for the screening, diagnosis, prognosis, and monitoring of patients.
Experimental design: A well-defined, reproducible search strategy was used to identify the relevant literature from 1966 to February 2000.
Results: A total of 428 papers studying the use of 195 different tumor markers in neuroblastoma were identified. Small sample sizes, poor statistical reporting, large heterogeneity across studies (e.g., in cutoff levels), and publication bias limited meta-analysis to the area of prognosis only; MYCN, chromosome 1p, DNA index, vanillylmandelic acid:homovanillic acid ratio, CD44, Trk-A, neuron-specific enolase, lactate dehydrogenase, ferritin, and multidrug resistance were all identified as potentially important prognostic tools.
Conclusions: This systematic review forms a knowledge base of the tumor markers studied thus far in neuroblastoma, and has identified some of the most important prognostic markers, which should be considered in future research and treatment strategies. Importantly, the review has also highlighted some general problems across primary tumor marker studies, in particular poor and heterogeneous reporting. These need to be addressed to allow better clinical interpretation and enable more appropriate evidence-based reviews in the future. In particular, collaboration of cancer research groups is needed to enable bigger sample sizes, standardize methods of analysis and reporting, and facilitate the pooling of individual patient data.