Background and objectives: Lymph node metastasis is known as a significant predictor of prognosis in colorectal cancer patients. Recently, reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) has been applied to detecting micrometastasis. To assess the risk of recurrence and accurately determine the spread of tumor cells, we examined lymph node micrometastases in a series of colorectal cancer patients.
Methods: We examined 202 lymph nodes obtained from 13 colorectal cancer patients who underwent curative operation and were histologically diagnosed to be node-negative, using RT-PCR to amplify mRNAs for two epithelial markers, carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) and cytokeratin 20 (CK-20).
Results: All the cases, including early stage patients, had micrometastases. A total of 102 among 202 lymph nodes (50.5%) were positive for either CEA or CK-20, or both (47.0, 40.1, and 36.6% respectively). Positive lymph nodes were spread along the courses of vascular trunks as well as being located in more distant regions.
Conclusions: Even in histologically negative lymph nodes, there is a considerable possibility that micrometastases may exist. Their detection by RT-PCR may improve clinical staging and indications for cancer therapy. We should also take care in the choice of surgical approach.