Objectives: A large proportion of patients with operable lung carcinoma (no evidence of systemic spread of tumor) develop metastatic disease after primary therapy. More sensitive and specific methods are needed to identify patients at highest risk for recurrence who may benefit most from adjuvant therapy, while sparing those patients who do not require such treatment. Summary Background Data: Using epithelial specific monoclonal antibodies, the authors have developed an immunocytochemical assay capable of detecting as few as 2 lung cancer cells in 1 million bone marrow cells. Methods: The assay was used to test the bone marrow (from resected ribs) of 43 patients with primary non-small cell lung carcinoma who showed no clinical or pathologic evidence of systemic disease. Results: Occult bone marrow micrometastases (BMMs) were detected in 40% of patients (17/43) with non-small cell lung cancer, including 29% (5/17) of patients with stage I or II disease and 46% of whom (12/26) had stage III disease. The median follow-up was 13.6 months. Patients with occult BMMs had significantly shorter times to disease recurrence compared with patients without BMMs (73 vs >351 months, p = 00009). Furthermore, for patients with stage I or II disease, the presence of occult BMMs was significantly associated with a higher rate of recurrence (p = 0.0004). Conclusions: The detection of occult BMMs identifies patients with operable non-small cell lung carcinoma who are at significantly increased risk for recurrence, independent of tumor stage, and may be useful in evaluating patients for adjuvant treatment protocols.
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