OBJECTIVE: Natural cytotoxicity, mediated by natural killer (NK) cells, has been believed to play an important role in inhibiting experimental tumor metastasis, and diminished NK cell activities leads to a high incidence of tumor occurrence. Despite convincing evidence from experimental studies, the role of NK cells in the immunological surveillance against cancer in human is poorly defined. METHODS: The present study was based on a retrospective analysis of data on 156 patients with gastric cancer, who were surgically treated in the Department of Surgery II, Kyushu University Hospital from 1993 to 1996. All patients were examined for NK cell activity based on a peripheral blood sampling done preoperatively. RESULTS: Significant association between NK cell activity and clinicopathological parameters including tumor size, lymphatic involvement, vascular involvement, and lymph node metastases was evident. When comparing the two groups according to NK cell activity, tumors with low NK cell activity tend to have lymphatic involvement. The 5-yr survival rates were 94.6% and 72.3% for those with NK cell activity >25% lysis and ≤25% lysis, respectively, the value being statistically significant (p < 0.05). The independent risk factors for prognosis examined by logistic regression analysis were lymphatic involvement, NK cell activity, depth of tumor invasion, and lymph node dissection. CONCLUSIONS: These current data showed that NK cell activity may be related to tumor volume and dissemination. Measurement of preoperative NK cell activity may be pertinent for the prognosis of patients with gastric cancer and for follow-up clinical management.
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