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J Mol Diagn. 2007 Nov;9(5):563-71. Epub 2007 Oct 4.

Is occult lymph node disease in colorectal cancer patients clinically significant? A review of the relevant literature.

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University of Pittsburgh, 3550 Terrace Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA.


The clinical significance of micrometastasis of colorectal cancer (CRC) to regional lymph nodes remains controversial. In this review, we analyze publications that have evaluated the clinical significance of occult lymph node metastasis in CRC. An extensive literature search identified 19 publications that evaluated the clinical significance of micrometastatic CRC by various methods, including immunohistochemistry (IHC; n = 13) and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR, n = 6). These studies were reviewed for methodology and findings. Significant limitations in methodology were identified, including inconsistent histological definitions of micrometastatic disease, poor sampling because of an inadequate number of lymph nodes or number of sections per lymph node analyzed, lack of conformity with respect to IHC antibody or RT-PCR marker, and inadequate power because of small sample size. Micrometastatic lymph node metastasis identified by RT-PCR was consistently found to be prognostically significant, but this was not true of micrometastatic disease identified by IHC. RT-PCR analysis of lymph nodes with specific markers can help identify pN0 (pathological-negative lymph node) CRC patients at increased risk for recurrence. The identification of occult disease by IHC techniques may also ultimately prove to be associated with worse outcome, but a number of inadequately powered studies have concluded conversely.

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