Occult lymph node metastasis is not a favorable factor for resected NSCLC patients

BMC Cancer. 2023 Sep 4;23(1):822. doi: 10.1186/s12885-023-11189-3.


Background: This study was to compare the clinical presentations and survivals between the non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients with occult lymph node metastasis (OLNM) and those with evident lymph node metastasis (ELNM). We also intended to analyze the predictive factors for OLNM.

Methods: Kaplan-Meier method with log-rank test was used to compare survivals between groups. Propensity score matching (PSM) was used to reduce bias. The least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO)-penalized Cox multivariable analysis was used to identify the prognostic factors. Random forest was used to determine the predictive factors for OLNM.

Results: A total of 2,067 eligible cases (N0: 1,497 cases; occult N1: 165 cases; evident N1: 54 cases; occult N2: 243 cases; evident N2: 108 cases) were included. The rate of OLNM was 21.4%. Patients with OLNM were tend to be female, non-smoker, adenocarcinoma and had smaller-sized tumors when compared with the patients with ELNM. Survival curves showed that the survivals of the patients with OLNM were similar to those of the patients with ELNM both before and after PSM. Multivariable Cox analysis suggested that positive lymph nodes (PLN) was the only prognostic factor for the patients with OLNM. Random forest showed that clinical tumor size was an important predictive factor for OLNM.

Conclusions: OLNM was not rare. OLNM was not a favorable sign for resected NSCLC patients with lymph node metastasis. PLN determined the survivals of the patients with OLNM. Clinical tumor size was a strong predictive factor for OLNM.

Keywords: Non-small cell lung cancer; Occult lymph node metastasis; Predictive factors; Survivals.

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung* / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms* / surgery
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Non-Smokers