Background: About one in five patients with locally advanced rectal cancer (RC) suffers recurrence or distant metastasis after neoadjuvant therapy. We investigated how cancer stem cell markers change after neoadjuvant therapy and how these markers relate to recurrence.
Methods: Pretreatment biopsies and postoperative specimens were taken from 64 patients with locally advanced rectal adenocarcinoma who received preoperative radiochemotherapy (RCT) between sampling. Samples were tested immunohistochemically for CD44, LGR5, ALDH1 and CD166; scores were dichotomised as high or low. The median follow-up period was 36 months.
Results: High expression of CD44, LGR5, ALDH and CD166 was found in 38%, 5%, 48% and 10%, respectively, before RCT and 86%, 33%, 71% and 52%, respectively, after RCT. CD44 (P=0.001), LGR5 (P=0.049) and CD166 (P=0.003) were significantly upregulated after RCT. Whereas no recurrence was seen during the follow-up in the low ALDH group, 40% of the high ALDH group suffered recurrence. In multivariate COX analysis, postoperative ALDH1 independently predicted poor prognosis in patients with RC who received RCT (P=0.0095).
Conclusion: Preoperative RCT upregulates expression of stem cell markers in patients with RC. High post-treatment ALDH1 expression predicts poor prognosis for these patients after neoadjuvant therapy.