Large negative lymph nodes - a surrogate for immune activation in rectal cancer patients?

J. E. Ruisch, M. Kloft, G. E. Fazzi, J. Melenhorst, D. R. Magee, H. Grabsch*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Aim: The size of regional, tumor draining lymph nodes without metastasis (LNneg) found in rectal cancer resection specimens varies and seems to be related to patient survival. Yet, the histopathological features influencing LNneg size in rectal cancer have not been studied in detail. Our pilot study focused on investigating the relationship between lymph node (LN) size and LNneg microarchitecture in rectal cancer (RC) resection specimens.

Method: In this retrospective cohort study, resection specimens from 146 RC patients, treated with either surgery alone (n = 29) or neoadjuvant therapy followed by resection (n= 117), were included in the study. Histology of LNnegs was reviewed to establish number of lymphoid follicles and presence of intranodal fat. Longest long axis and area of each LN were measured digitally.

Results: 1830 LNnegs were measured. The microarchitecture was analyzed in a subset of 680 LNnegs. 153 (22.5 %) LNnegs contained intranodal fat. After neoadjuvant treatment, presence of intranodal fat was related to smaller LNneg area (median (range) area of LNneg without intranodal fat: 4.51 mm(2) (0.15-46.89 mm(2)), with intranodal fat: 3.46 mm(2) (0.12-27.22 mm(2)), p = 0.048). A higher number of lymphoid follicles was related to a larger LNneg area in both patient groups (p <0.001).

Conclusion: Our pilot data suggest that in rectal cancer the presence of large regional LNnegs may reflect increased immune activation due to tumor related antigens. Further studies are warranted to investigate whether histologically visible microarchitectural features of LNnegs such as lymphoid follicles translate to particular features in radiological images and hence could potentially help to identify LNneg with more certainty at the time of pre-treatment disease staging.

Original languageEnglish
Article number153106
Number of pages6
JournalPathology Research and Practice
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020


  • Rectal cancer
  • Lymph nodes
  • Chemotherapy
  • Cancer
  • Regional perfusion
  • Pathology
  • Surgical
  • SIZE

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