Purpose: Aim of this study has been to evaluate natural killer (NK) activity in patients with colorectal tumors before and after curative surgery.
Methods: Forty colorectal cancer patients without distant metastases were stratified according to American Joint Committee on Cancer/International Union Against Cancer staging system into three categories: Stage I (n = 12), Stage II (n = 15), and Stage III (n = 13). All of them underwent curative resection, and there were no major postoperative complications. Venous blood samples were obtained preoperatively, at surgical wound closure, and on the 1st, 7th, and 21st postoperative days. Mononuclear cells were isolated over Ficoll-Hypaque (Lymphoprep, Nycomed Pharma AS, Oslo, Norway) gradients, and NK activity was assayed by evaluation of cytotoxic response against K562 cells. Normal NK activity was achieved from 15 healthy donors. Percentage relative increments in relation to preoperative levels were calculated for every postoperative sample, and t-test was used for statistical evaluation.
Results: Before surgery, Stages II and III patients had lower levels of NK activity than healthy people (P < 0.05 and P < 0.001, respectively). NK activity always fell after surgery (Stage I: -18.48 +/- 11.42; Stage II: -16.93 +/- 13.57; Stage III: -35.29 +/- 12.03, at day 1 postsurgery) and appeared to rise slightly by the 21st postoperative day in Stage I patients (+4.87 +/- 12.41). Stage II, and especially Stage III, patients did show a significant recovery by the 21st postoperative day (+23.63 +/- 9.36 and +43.19 +/- 13.34, respectively). At this time, NK activity in these two groups was not significantly lower than in normal subjects (P > 0.05).
Conclusion: NK activity is depressed in colorectal cancer patients in relation to progression of illness, even at locoregional stages. Curative resection of tumors at Stages II and III has promoted a recovery of NK activity in patients with uneventful postoperative courses.