This study was undertaken to determine the extent of apoptosis in lung carcinoma and to evaluate it as a prognostic marker. A series of 75 lung carcinomas (47 squamous cell carcinomas, 24 adenocarcinomas, 3 small cell carcinomas, and 1 large cell carcinoma) was analyzed for the extent of apoptosis by using the 3′ end-labeling method of DNA in tissue sections. Apoptosis was correlated with the rate of cell proliferation, the immunohistochemically detectable p53 and bcl-2, the extent of tumor necrosis, and the survival data. The end-labeling method allowed a precise evaluation of the extent of apoptosis. In tumor tissue, the number of apoptotic bodies was roughly 2-fold greater than the number of apoptotic cells, whereas in nonneoplastic control tissues, the ratio was 1:1. The apoptotic indexes (percentages of apoptotic cells and bodies among tumor cells) were slightly higher in adenocarcinoma than in squamous cell carcinoma. There was no association between the extent of apoptosis and the expression of proliferating cell nuclear antigen or p53. On the other hand, tumor necrosis correlated significantly with proliferating cell nuclear antigen and p53 positivity (P = 0.00025 and 0.00087, respectively). Surprisingly, the extent of apoptosis was also found to be independent of the expression of bcl-2. Patients with apoptotic indexes greater than 1.5% had significantly shorter survival time than patients with apoptotic indexes equal to 1.50% or less (P < 0.01 by log rank). Aberrant p53 positivity also predicted a poor prognosis (P < 0.002 by log rank). By multivariate analysis, enhanced apoptosis showed a 1.9-fold risk (P = 0.04), and p53 positivity showed a 2.3-fold risk (P = 0.005) for a shortened survival. We conclude that both enhanced apoptosis and p53 positivity are independent prognostic markers in non-small cell lung carcinoma, predicting shortened survival time of the patients.

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This study was supported financially by the Finnish Cancer Societies.

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