• renal cell carcinoma (RCC);
  • lymph nodes;
  • survival;
  • immunotherapy (IMT)



The current study was performed to determine the impact of the presence of retroperitoneal lymphadenopathy on the survival and response to immunotherapy of patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma (RCC).


A retrospective cohort study was performed with outcome assessment based on the chart review of demographic, clinical, and pathologic data from 1087 patients. Patients with RCC who did not present with metastatic disease, who did not undergo nephrectomy as part of their cancer treatment, and those in whom either the lymph node (N) or metastatic (M) status was unknown, were excluded. A total of 322 M1 patients who met these criteria and who underwent nephrectomy for unilateral RCC formed the principal study population.


Two hundred thirty-six patients presented with N0M1 disease and 86 patients presented with N+M1 disease. In M1 patients, the presence of positive regional lymph nodes was associated with larger sized, higher grade, locally advanced primary tumors that were more commonly associated with sarcomatoid features. N0M1 patients were more likely to achieve an objective response to systemic immunotherapy compared with N+M1 patients (P = 0.01). N+M1 patients overall had worse short-term and long-term survival compared with N0M1 patients, with a median survival of 10.5 months compared with 20.4 months, respectively. The median survival of N0M1 patients was improved to 28 months in those who received adjunctive immunotherapy (P = 0.0008), whereas the median survival of patients with N+M1 disease was the same in those treated with and those treated without adjunctive immunotherapy (P = 0.18).


Even in the modern era of systemic immunotherapy, the presence of regional lymphadenopathy exerts a detrimental effect on the survival of patients with metastatic RCC. Lymph node status is a strong predictor of the failure to achieve either an objective immunotherapy response or an improvement in survival when immunotherapy is given as an adjunctive treatment after cytoreductive nephrectomy. However, in multivariate analysis, including both clinical and pathologic variables, lymph node status was found to have less of an impact on survival than primary tumor stage and grade and patient performance status. Cancer 2003;97:2995–3002. © 2003 American Cancer Society.

DOI 10.1002/cncr.11422