Lymph node micrometastasis (LNM) can now be detected thanks to the development of various biological methods such as immunohistochemistry (IHC) and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Although several reports have examined LNM in various carcinomas, including gastrointestinal (GI) cancer, the clinical significance of LNM remains controversial. Clinically, the presence of LNM is particularly important in patients without nodal metastasis on routine histological examination (pN0), because patients with pN0 but with LNM already in fact have metastatic potential. However, at present, several technical obstacles are impeding the detection of LNM using methods such as IHC or RT-PCR. Accurate evaluation should be carried out using the same antibody or primer and the same technique in a large number of patients. The clinical importance of the difference between LNM and isolated tumor cells (≤0.2 mm in diameter) will also be gradually clarified. It is important that the results of basic studies on LNM are prospectively introduced into the clinical field. Rapid diagnosis of LNM using IHC and RT-PCR during surgery would be clinically useful. Currently, minimally invasive treatments such as endoscopic submucosal dissection and laparoscopic surgery with individualized lymphadenectomy are increasingly being performed. Accurate diagnosis of LNM would clarify issues of curability and safety when performing such treatments. In the near future, individualized lymphadenectomy will develop based on the establishment of rapid, accurate diagnosis of LNM.
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