Aim: Recent trends in treatment strategy for early gastric cancer (EGC) are towards minimal surgical procedures, such as endoscopic mucosal resection and laparoscopic partial resection. There is a possibility of incomplete removal of regional lymph nodes in minimal procedures, which may subsequently decrease the chance of a cure. Therefore, it is essential to be able to predict lymph node status and to make careful selection of candidates for mucosal resection.
Methods and results: We studied the relationship between lymph node status and various pathological parameters including macroscopic appearance, location, size, differentiation, presence of ulceration, vascularity, presence of gastritis cystica profunda-like glandular proliferation, disruption of the muscularis mucosae and invasion into the muscularis mucosae, using age- and sex-matched samples of 40 node-positive and 80 node-negative tumours to define the characteristics of intramucosal EGCs. Histological differentiation (P < 0.001), increased submucosal vascularity (P < 0.05), breakdown of the muscularis mucosae (P < 0.05), and invasion of tumour cells into the muscularis mucosae (P < 0.05) were correlated with the lymph node status of intramucosal gastric carcinoma. Furthermore, diffuse type histology (P < 0.001) and deep invasion into the muscularis mucosae (P < 0.05) were indicators of node-positive intramucosal EGCs.
Conclusions: These histological indicators are easily accessible and seem to predict lymph node metastatic disease in limited surgical specimens. Patients should be carefully selected despite the recent trend toward less invasive resection of EGCs, especially for those apparently confined to the mucosa.