BACKGROUND: Pathological routine lymph node staging is postulated to be the main oncological prognosticator in esophageal cancer (EC). However, micrometastases in lymph nodes (LNMM) and bone marrow (BNMM) are discussed as the key events in tumor recurrence. We assessed the prognostic significance of the LNMM/BNMM status in initially pN0 staged patients with curative esophagectomy.
METHODS: From 110 patients bone marrow aspirates and lymph node tissues were analyzed. For LNMM detection immunohistochemistry was performed using the anticytokeratin antibody AE1/AE3. To detect micrometastases in the bone marrow a staining with the pan-keratin antibody A45-B/B3 was done. Results were correlated with clinicopathologic parameters as well as recurrence and death during follow-up time.
RESULTS: Thirty-eight (34.5%) patients showed LNMM, whereas in 54 (49.1%) patients BNMM could be detected. LNMM and BNMM positive patients showed a correlation to an increased pT category (p = 0.017). Univariate and multivariate analyses revealed that the LNMM/BNMM status and especially LNMM skipping the anatomical lymph node chain were significant independent predictors of overall survival and recurrence-free survival.
CONCLUSIONS: This study indicates that routine pathological staging of EC is insufficient. Micrometastases in lymph nodes and the bone marrow seem to be the main reason for tumor recurrence and they are a strong prognosticator following curative treatment of pN0 EC.