PURPOSE - The survival of patients with non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), even when resectable, remains poor. Several small studies suggest that occult metastases (OMs) in pleura, bone marrow (BM), or lymph nodes (LNs) are present in early-stage NSCLC and are associated with a poor outcome. We investigated the prevalence of OMs in resectable NSCLC and their relationship with survival.
PATIENTS AND METHODS - Eligible patients had previously untreated, potentially resectable NSCLC. Saline lavage of the pleural space, performed before and after pulmonary resection, was examined cytologically. Rib BM and all histologically negative LNs (N0) were examined for OM, diagnosed by cytokeratin immunohistochemistry (IHC). Survival probabilities were estimated using the Kaplan-Meier method. The log-rank test and Cox proportional hazards regression model were used to compare survival of groups of patients. P < .05 was considered significant.
RESULTS - From July 1999 to March 2004, 1,047 eligible patients (538 men and 509 women; median age, 67.2 years) were entered onto the study, of whom 50% had adenocarcinoma and 66% had stage I NSCLC. Pleural lavage was cytologically positive in only 29 patients. OMs were identified in 66 (8.0%) of 821 BM specimens and 130 (22.4%) of 580 LN specimens. In univariate and multivariable analyses OMs in LN but not BM were associated with significantly worse disease-free survival (hazard ratio [HR], 1.50; P = .031) and overall survival (HR, 1.58; P = .009).
CONCLUSION - In early-stage NSCLC, LN OMs detected by IHC identify patients with a worse prognosis. Future clinical trials should test the role of IHC in identifying patients for adjuvant therapy.