Immunocytochemical assessment of bone marrow aspirates for monitoring response to chemotherapy in small-cell lung cancer patients

G. Pelosi, F. Pasini, C. Ottensmeier, F. Pavanel, E. Bresaola, A. Bonetti, F. Fraggetta, A. Terzi, A. Iannucci, G. L. Cetto

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Recent reports have suggested that tumour cell immunodetection in bone marrow of small-cell lung cancer patients is by far more frequent than found cytohistologically and may have clinical relevance. This study evaluates primarily the efficacy of chemotherapy as method of in vivo purging, but also the relationship of marrow involvement with survival. A total of 112 bone marrow aspirates from 30 chemo-naive patients were stained twice using anti-NCAM antibodies, first at diagnosis and then after chemotherapy (24 patients) or at disease progression (six patients). Marrow contamination was associated with lower survival (P = 0.002), and was also detected in 7/17 patients conventionally staged as having limited disease. At multivariate analysis, marrow involvement was an independent factor of unfavourable prognosis (P = 0.033). The amount of tumour contamination, before and after chemotherapy, remained unchanged also in responders and even in the subset of patients with apparent limited disease. Following chemotherapy, bone marrow became tumour negative only in 25% of initially positive responders and in none of non-responders. Our results indicate that (i) chemotherapy is not effective in purging bone marrow even in chemo-responsive patients and (ii) a subset of patients with limited disease and negative bone marrow aspirates might have a more favourable prognosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1213-1221
Number of pages9
JournalBritish Journal of Cancer
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1999


  • Bone marrow
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunocytochemistry
  • Micrometastases
  • Prognosis
  • SCLC

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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