Purpose: We report stage specific followup guidelines based on our evaluation of the pattern of recurrence in 286 patients treated for local N0 or Nx renal cell carcinoma.
Materials and methods: We retrospectively reviewed the clinical records of 286 patients with pT1 to pT3N0 or Nx renal cell carcinoma who underwent nephrectomy at our center between February 1985 and December 1994. In cases of later metastases the median interval to first metastasis, site of metastasis and method of diagnosis were correlated with the primary lesion stage.
Results: Metastases developed in 68 patients a median of 23 months after nephrectomy. Eight of the 113 patients with pT1 disease had metastases (median time to diagnosis 38 months), while 17 of 64 with pT2 disease and 43 of 109 with pT3 disease had metastases (medians 32 and 17 months, respectively). Of the 92 metastases 59 (64%) were asymptomatic, including 44 detected on routine chest x-rays (32) and blood tests (12). Isolated asymptomatic intra-abdominal metastases were diagnosed by surveillance computerized tomography in only 6 patients (9%). The remaining patients with metastases had associated clinical symptoms and/or abnormal results on interval tests that prompted further diagnostic studies.
Conclusions: We confirmed that the risk of metastatic renal cell carcinoma is stage dependent. Therefore, surveillance protocols should be based on the pathological stage of the primary tumor. We recommend an annual chest x-ray, and serum liver function and alkaline phosphatase level tests for patients with pT1 disease. These studies are indicated beginning at 6 and 3 months for pT2 and pT3 disease, respectively, continuing every 6 months for 3 years and then annually. Surveillance computerized tomography should be performed at 24 and 60 months in patients with pT2 and pT3 disease or earlier when the results of any routine study are abnormal or clinical symptoms are present. Bone and brain surveillance studies should be prompted by site specific symptoms, elevated alkaline phosphatase levels or the diagnosis of metastasis at another site.