Original Article of Interventional Pulmonology Corner

Incidence and clinical relevance of non-small cell lung cancer lymph node micro-metastasis detected by staging endobronchial ultrasound-guided transbronchial needle aspiration

Adam R. Belanger, Johnathan Hollyfield, Gabriella Yacovone, Agathe S. Ceppe, Jason A. Akulian, A. Cole Burks, M. Patricia Rivera, Leslie G. Dodd, Jason M. Long, Benjamin E. Haithcock, Chad V. Pecot


Background: Approximately twenty percent of lymph node (LN) negative non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients who undergo curative intent surgery have pan-cytokeratin immunohistochemistry (IHC)-detectable occult micro-metastases (MMs) in resected LNs. The presence of the MMs in NSCLC is associated worsened outcomes. As a substantial proportion of NSCLC LN staging is conducted using endobronchial ultrasound-guided transbronchial needle aspiration (EBUS-TBNA), we sought to determine the frequency of detection of occult MMs in EBUS-TBNA specimens and to evaluate the impact of MMs on progression-free and overall survival.
Methods: We performed retrospective IHC staining for pan-cytokeratin of EBUS-TBNA specimens previously deemed negative by a cytopathologist based on conventional hematoxylin and eosin staining. The results were correlated with clinical variables, including survival outcomes.
Results: Of 887 patients screened, 44 patients were identified meeting inclusion criteria with sufficient additional tissue for testing. With respect to the time of the EBUS-TBNA procedure, 52% of patients were clinical stage I, 34% clinical stage II, and clinical 14% stage IIIa NSCLC. Three patients (6.8%) were found to have cytokeratin positive MMs. All 3 MMs detected were at N2 LN stations. The presence of MMs was associated with significantly decreased progression-free (median 210 vs. 1,293 days, P=0.0093) and overall survival (median 239 vs. 1,120 days, P=0.0357).
Conclusions: Occult LN MMs can be detected in EBUS-TBNA specimens obtained during staging examinations and are associated with poor clinical outcomes. If prospectively confirmed, these results have significant implications for EBUS-TBNA specimen analyses and possibly for the NSCLC staging paradigm.

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