Background: Advances in our understanding of the molecular biology of colorectal cancer have fuelled the search for novel molecular prognostic markers to complement existing staging systems. Markers assessed in combination may perform better than those considered individually. Using high-throughput tissue microarray technology, we describe the prognostic value of combined p53 / Bcl-2 status in colorectal cancer.
Patients and methods: Tumour samples from 462 patients who underwent elective surgery to resect a primary colorectal cancer between 1994 and 2000 (mean follow-up of 75 months) were assembled in tissue microarray format. Clinico-pathological data including tumour grade, stage, vascular invasion status along with disease specific survival data has been collected prospectively. Immunohistochemical analysis of p53 and Bcl-2 expression was performed using antibodies DO-7 (p53) and 124 (Bcl-2), and results correlated with known clinico-pathological variables and outcomes.
Results: Abnormal nuclear p53 accumulation and Bcl-2 overexpression were detected in 221/445 (49.6%) and199/437 (45.5%) tumours respectively, with a significant inverse correlation between the two markers (p = 0.023). On univariate analysis no correlations were found between either marker and standard clinico-pathological variables, however nuclear p53 expression was associated with a significantly reduced survival (p = 0.024). Combined analysis of the two markers indicated that 112/432 (24.2%) cases displayed a p53(-)/Bcl-2(+) phenotype, this occurring more frequently in earlier stage tumours. Kaplan-Meier analysis revealed a significant survival advantage in these p53(-)/Bcl-2(+) tumours compared with the remaining cases (p = 0.0032). On multivariate analysis using the Cox proportional hazards model, neither p53 expression nor Bcl-2 expression alone were of independent prognostic significance, however the combined p53(-)/Bcl-2(+) phenotype was significantly associated with a good prognosis in this series (HR 0.659, 95%CI 0.452-0.959, p = 0.029).
Conclusion: Patient stratification by combined p53 / Bcl-2 phenotype provides stage-independent prognostic information in colorectal cancer. Specifically, that up to a quarter of patients display a good prognosis p53(-)/Bcl-2(+) phenotype. This may indicate a more clinically indolent phenotype and a subset of patients for whom less aggressive adjuvant treatment appropriate.