The independent prognostic significance of isolated tumour cells in bone marrow is still a matter of debate. This study evaluated the possible association of bone marrow micrometastases with tumour progression and prognosis in patients affected by gastric cancer. Bone marrow aspirates from both iliac crests were obtained from 114 consecutive patients operated on for gastric cancer. The specimens were stained with monoclonal antibody CAM 5.2 which reacts predominantly with cytokeratin filaments 8 and 19. Among 114 cases analysed, 33 cases (29%) had cytokeratine-positive cells in the bone marrow. There was no significant relationship between the presence of bone marrow micrometastases and site, depth of tumour invasion, lymph node metastases, presence of metastases. Patients with cytokeratine-positive cells had a trend towards a diffuse type histology (P=0.06). Among the 88 curatively resected patients, median survivals were 40 months and 36 months for cytokeratine-negative and cytokeratine-positive subsets respectively (P=0.9). Recurrence of the disease was observed in 39 cases (44.3%); 11 of 24 (45.8%) in the cytokeratine-positive subset and 28 of 64 (43.7%) in the cytokeratine-negative subset. In conclusion in our experience the presence of cytokeratine-positive cells in the bone marrow of curatively resected gastric cancer patients did not affect outcome and its independent prognostic significance remains to be proven before its official acceptance in the TNM classification.
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