Systematic review and meta-analysis of the prognostic impact of lymph node micrometastasis and isolated tumour cells in patients with stage I-IIIA non-small cell lung cancer

Histopathology. 2023 Apr;82(5):650-663. doi: 10.1111/his.14831. Epub 2022 Nov 9.


Lymph node micrometastases could be one of the reasons for the high recurrence rate after complete surgical resection in stage I-IIIA non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The standard evaluation of a single haematoxylin and eosin (H&E) slide of a paraffin-embedded section of a lymph node is insufficient for the detection of micrometastases, and there is a need for additional histopathological evaluation. The association of lymph node micrometastases with survival remains as yet unresolved. The aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis is to investigate if lymph node micrometastases and isolated tumour cells in patients with stage I-IIIA NSCLC, detected with multiple sectioning and/or immunohistochemistry (IHC) and/or reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), are associated with overall survival (OS) and disease-free survival (DFS) after surgical resection. We performed a meta-analysis of time-to-event outcomes based on 15 articles using ancillary techniques to detect micrometastases. We extracted the OS and DFS every 3-6 months after surgery, for patients with and without occult lymph node micrometastasis, from the survival curves published in each article. These data were used to reconstruct OS and DFS for 'micrometastasis' and 'no micrometastasis' groups. Based on all included studies that used IHC, serial sectioning, or RT-PCR, we found a 5-year OS of 55% (micrometastasis) vs. 75% (no micrometastasis), and a 5-year DFS of 53% (micrometastasis) vs. 75% (no micrometastasis). Patients with stage I-IIIA NSCLC with lymph node micrometastases detected by ancillary histopathological and molecular techniques have a significantly poorer OS and DFS compared to patients without lymph node micrometastases.

Keywords: early stage; meta-analyses; micrometastasis; non-small cell lung cancer; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology
  • Neoplasm Micrometastasis / pathology
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Prognosis