Pattern in Lung Cancer Pathology May Predict Recurrence After Surgery 

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A new study by thoracic surgeons and pathologists at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center shows that a specific pattern found in the tumor pathology of some lung cancer patients is a strong predictor of recurrence. Knowing that this feature exists in a tumor’s pathology could be an important factor for physicians in guiding cancer treatment decisions. The study was published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.1

According to the study’s authors, the findings offer the first scientific evidence that may not only help surgeons identify which patients are more likely to benefit from less radical lung-sparing surgery, but which patients will benefit from more extensive surgery, potentially reducing the risk of lung cancer recurrence by 75%.

Study Details

Researchers retrospectively evaluated the clinical characteristics and pathology information of 734 patients who had surgery for early-stage adenocarcinoma and found that tumors in 40% of those patients exhibited an abnormal cell pattern strongly associated with cancer recurrence after surgery. No study to date has investigated the prognostic utility of this classification, called micropapillary morphology, for patients with small, early-stage lung adenocarcinomas. Currently there are no evidence-based criteria for choosing the most effective surgical approach for this group.

The findings suggest that limited resection may not be appropriate for patients with the micropapillary pattern, as they were found to have a 34% risk of the cancer returning within 5 years after lung-sparing surgery, or limited resection, in which the tumor is removed by minimally invasive means and lung function is preserved. In contrast, patients with the micropapillary pattern who underwent lobectomy had only a 12% incidence of recurrence over a 5-year period.

Guiding Treatment Decisions

The study observations may play a key role in deciding whether to perform lung-sparing surgery or lobectomy for patients with small lung adenocarcinomas. It currently takes an expert lung pathologist to identify the micropapillary pattern during an operation. If the surgeon performs lung-sparing surgery in the presence of the micropapillary pattern, the chance of recurrence is high within the spared lobe of the lung. A lobectomy can reduce this chance of recurrence by 75%. If the micropapillary pattern is not found, the surgeon can confidently perform lung-sparing surgery. ■

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1. Nitadori J, Bograd AJ, Kadota K, et al: J Natl Cancer Inst. August 7, 2013 (early release online).