Positive lymph nodes do not metastasize

J. Engel, R. T. Emeny, D. Hölzel
Munich Cancer Registry (MCR) of the Munich Cancer Centre (MCC)


Our understanding of the role of lymph nodes (LN) in the metastasization process (MET) is marginal. Positive LNs (pLN) are the most important prognostic factor and lymph node dissection (LND) is still standard practice in primary treatment. However, up to now, there is almost no evidence that elective LND has a survival benefit. Based on many clinical and experimental findings, we propose that tumor foci in regional LN are incapable of metastasization and can therefore not infiltrate further LN and organs.

Available data demonstrate a very early infiltration of MET capable tumor cells from the primary tumor into regional LN, and thereafter an increased probability of subsequent LN infiltrations. Disparate growth rates of the first versus subsequent infiltrating tumors as well as the asymptotic growth and prognosis of large tumor foci in LN explain many clinical observations for solid tumors. The consequence of the hypothesis “pLN do not metastasize” would impact clinical treatment and research and contribute to understanding the mounting evidence against LND.

Keywords: Breast cancer, Colorectal cancer, Positive lymph node, Tumor cell dissemination, Tumor growth

Cancer Metastasis Rev (2012) 31:235-246