Background: Liver metastases occur frequently in colorectal cancer and are probably caused by disseminated tumor cells having been trapped in the liver. The prognostic significance of hematogenous tumor cell dissemination has already been demonstrated for blood and bone marrow of patients with colorectal cancer. The aim of this study was to investigate the frequency and prognostic significance of disseminated tumor cells in liver biopsies of colorectal cancer patients.
Methods: Liver biopsies from 100 patients with UICC stage I-III colorectal cancer were taken prospectively during resection of the primary tumor. Liver biopsies obtained from 16 patients with benign gastrointestinal diseases served as negative controls. Liver samples from seven patients with liver cirrhosis were additionally taken. Liver biopsies were examined using a reverse transcriptase (RT)-PCR assay to amplify cytokeratin (CK) 20 transcripts. The median follow-up of the patients was 55 months.
Results: Disseminated tumor cells were detected in liver samples of 10/100 (10%) patients with UICC stage I-III colorectal cancer. Liver specimens from all seven patients with liver cirrhosis were CK 20-positive, whereas 16 patients with other benign gastrointestinal diseases were all CK 20-negative. There was no correlation between tumor cell detection in liver biopsies and survival of the patients. The only significant prognostic factor on uni- and multivariate analysis was the UICC stage.
Conclusions: This study demonstrates that detection of disseminated tumor cells in liver samples from patients with UICC stage I-III colorectal cancer has no prognostic influence. UICC classification was the strongest prognostic factor in this patient series.