Background: The diagnosis of lymph node metastasis in esophageal cancer by the presence and number of metastatic lymph nodes is an extremely important prognostic factor. In addition, the indication of non-surgical therapy is gaining more attention. Vascular endothelial growth factor C (VEGF-C) is potentially lymphangiogenic and selectively induces hyperplasia of the lymphatic vasculature. In this study, we investigated the expression of VEGF-C and whether it correlated with various clinico-pathologic findings.
Methods: KYSE series of esophageal cancer cell lines and 106 patients with primary esophageal squamous cell carcinomas who had undergone radical esophagectomy were analyzed. VEGF-C mRNA expression was determined by quantitative RT-PCR.
Results: High expression of VEGF-C was detected in most of the KYSE cell lines, especially KYSE410, yet, in an esophageal normal epithelium cell line, Het-1A, VEGF-C was not detected. In the clinical specimen, the expression of VEGF-C in the cancerous tissue was higher than in the corresponding noncancerous esophageal mucosa (p = 0.026). The expression of VEGF-C was found to be higher in Stage2B-4A tumors than in Stage0-2A tumors (p = 0.049). When the patients were divided into two groups according to their expression levels of VEGF-C (a group of 53 cases with high expression and a group of 53 cases with low expression), the patients with high VEGF-C expression had significantly shorter survival after surgery than the patients with low expression (p = 0.0065). Although univariate analysis showed that high expression of VEGF-C was a statistically significant prognostic factor, this was not shown in multivariate analysis. In the subgroup of patients with Tis and T1 tumors, the expression of VEGF-C was higher in N1 tumors than in N0 tumors (p = 0.029). The survival rate of patients from the high expression group (n = 10) was lower than that in the low expression group (n = 11), and all the patients in the low VEGF-C expression group survived.
Conclusions: The expression of VEGF-C correlates with lymph node metastasis and poor prognosis. In patients with Tis and T1 esophageal tumors, the expression of VEGF-C may be a good diagnostic factor for determining metastasis of the lymph node.