Should Total Number of Lymph Nodes be Used as a Quality of Care Measure for Stage III Colon Cancer?

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Objective:To assess whether TNODS is an independent prognostic factor after adjusting for the lymph node ratio (LNR).Summary Background Data:The medical literature has suggested that the TNODS is associated with better survival in stage II and III colon cancer. Thus TNODS was endorsed as a quality measure for patient care by American College of Surgeons, National Quality Forum. There is, however, little biologic rationale to support this linkage.Methods:A total of 24,477 stage III colon cancer patients were identified from Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results cancer registry and categorized into 4 groups, LNR1 to LNR4, according to LNR interval: <0.07, 0.07 to 0.25, 0.25 to 0.50, and >0.50. Patients were also stratified according to TNODS into high TNODS (≥12) and low TNODS (<12) groups. The method of Kaplan-Meier was used to estimate the 5-year survival and the log-rank test was used to test the survival difference among the different groups.Results:Patients with high TNODS have better survival compared with those with low TNODS (5-year survival 51.0% vs. 45.0%, P < 0.0001). However, after stratifying by LNR status, there was no significant survival difference between patients with high TNODS and those with low TNODS within strata LNR2 (5-year survival 56.3% vs. 56.0%, P = 0.26). Ironically, patients with high TNODS had significantly worse survival than those with low TNODS within strata LNR3 (5-year survival 41.2% vs. 47.4%, P = 0.0009) and LNR 4 (5-year survival 22.0% vs. 32.1%, P < 0.0001).Conclusions:The previously reported prognostic effect of TNODS on node-positive colon cancer was confounded by LNR. This observation calls into question the use of TNODS as a quality measure for colon cancer patients’ care.

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