Background. Even after curative resection of an early gastric cancer, some patients die of a recurrence. It is our view that patients with early gastric cancer who died of their disease had occult micrometastases in perigastric lymph nodes at the time of the original diagnosis. In an attempt to identify these micrometastases, lymph nodes dissected from early gastric cancer lesions were stained after operation with a monoclonal antibody against cytokeratin, an essential constituent of the cytoskeleton of epithelial cells. Methods. The 420 dissected lymph nodes from 34 patients with node- negative early gastric cancer who died of a recurrence were examined for the presence of tumor cells. We used immunocytochemical techniques and an antiserum to epithelial membrane antigen. The monoclonal antibody CAM 5.2 recognizes cytokeratin polypeptides (human cytokeratin numbers 8 and 18) commonly present in epithelial cells. Clinicopathologic characteristics and prognosis were determined for patients with cytokeratin-positive cells in the lymph nodes. Results. Of 420 lymph nodes, 15 (3.6%) nodes and 23.5% (8 of 34) of the patients presented with cytokeratin-positive cells at the time of primary operation. The presence of cytokeratin positivity was not related to various clinicopathologic factors. The histologic stage of eight cytokeratin- positive cases was upstaged by the group of cytokeratin-positive lymph nodes from stage I to three of stage II, four of stage III, and one of stage IV, hematogenous recurrences were common, and the prognosis was poorer. Conclusions. Immunohistochemical techniques aid in identifying micrometastatic disease in lymph nodes missed in routine hematoxylin-eosin staining. Cytokeratin staining of the dissected lymph nodes is recommended to precisely determine tumor stage and prognosis for patients with early gastric cancer.
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