Objective The detection of lymph node metastases is of vital importance in patients undergoing excisional surgery for rectal cancer as it provides important prognostic information and facilitates decision-making with regards to adjuvant therapy. It has been suggested that patients in whom only a small number of nodes are present in the excised specimen have a worse prognosis, presumably due to inadequate lymphadenectomy and consequent understaging of the disease. The aim of this study was to determine which factors affect the yield of lymph nodes.
Methods This was a retrospective study of patients who had undergone a resection for histologically proven adenocarcinoma of the rectum. The total number of lymph nodes identified in the excised specimen was recorded in each case. A multivariate analysis was performed to ascertain whether this number was significantly influenced by any of several variables.
Results A total of 167 patients were studied (M:F ratio 107 : 60, median age 70 years). The median number of lymph nodes contained within the resected specimen was 16 (interquartile range 10–21). On univariate analysis a significantly higher yield of lymph nodes was obtained with tumours in the middle third of the rectum (P = 0.007), larger tumours (P < 0.001), more locally advanced tumours according to both pT staging (P = 0.001) and Dukes' staging (P = 0.020), an increased number of involved nodes (P = 0.003) and examination by a specialist histopathologist (P = 0.003). On multivariate analysis the only significant variables were tumour size (P = 0.021), number of positive nodes (P = 0.007) and histopathologist (P = 0.021).
Conclusions The number of lymph nodes identified within the excised specimen in patients undergoing resection of a rectal cancer positively correlates with the size of the tumour and is also dependent on the examining histopathologist. In addition, in node-positive patients the number of involved nodes increases with increasing lymph node yield.