The Lymph Node Ratio is the Strongest Prognostic Factor after Resection of Pancreatic Cancer

  • Hartwig Riediger
  • Tobias Keck
  • Ulrich Wellner
  • Axel zur Hausen
  • Ulrich Adam
  • Ulrich T. Hopt
  • Frank Makowiec
Original Article



Survival after surgery of pancreatic cancer is still poor, even after curative resection. Some prognostic factors like the status of the resection margin, lymph node (LN) status, or tumor grading have been identified. However, only few data have been published regarding the prognostic influence of the LN ratio (number of LN involved to number of examined LN). We, therefore, evaluated potential prognostic factors in 182 patients after resection of pancreatic cancer including assessment of LN ratio.


Since 1994, 204 patients underwent pancreatic resection for ductal pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Survival was evaluated in 182 patients with complete follow-up evaluations. Of those 182 patients, 88% had cancer of the pancreatic head, 5% of the body, and 7% of the pancreatic tail. Patients underwent pancreatoduodenectomy (85%), distal resection (12%), or total pancreatectomy (3%). Survival was analyzed by the Kaplan–Meier and Cox methods.


In all 204 resected patients, operative mortality was 3.9% (n = 8). In the 182 patients with follow-up, 70% had free resection margins, 62% had G1- or G2-classified tumors, and 70% positive LN. Median tumor size was 30 (7–80) mm. The median number of examined LN was 16 and median number of involved LN 1 (range 0–22). Median LN ratio was 0.1 (0–0.79). Cumulative 5-year survival (5-year SV) in all patients was 15%. In univariate analysis, a LN ratio ≥ 0.2 (5-year SV 6% vs. 19% with LN ratio < 0.2; p = 0.003), LN ratio ≥ 0.3 (5-year SV 0% vs. 18% with LN ratio < 0.3; p < 0.001), a positive resection margin (p < 0.01) and poor differentiation (G3/G4; p < 0.03) were associated with poorer survival. In multivariate analysis, a LN ratio ≥ 0.2 (p < 0.02; relative risk RR 1.6), LN ratio ≥ 0.3 (p < 0.001; RR 2.2), positive margins (p < 0.02; RR 1.7), and poor differentiation (p < 0.03; RR 1.5) were independent factors predicting a poorer outcome. The conventional nodal status or the number of examined nodes (in all patients and in the subgroups of node positive or negative patients) had no significant influence on survival. Patients with one metastatic LN had the same outcome as patients with negative nodes, but prognosis decreased significantly in patients with two or more LN involved.


Not the lymph node involvement per se but especially the LN ratio is an independent prognostic factor after resection of pancreatic cancers. In our series, the LN ratio was even the strongest predictor of survival. The routine estimation of the LN ratio may be helpful not only for the individual prediction of prognosis but also for the indication of adjuvant therapy and herein related outcome and therapy studies.


Pancreatic cancer Resection Survival Prognostic factors Lymph node ratio 


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Copyright information

© The Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hartwig Riediger
    • 1
  • Tobias Keck
    • 1
  • Ulrich Wellner
    • 1
  • Axel zur Hausen
    • 2
  • Ulrich Adam
    • 1
  • Ulrich T. Hopt
    • 1
  • Frank Makowiec
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SurgeryUniversity of FreiburgFreiburgGermany
  2. 2.Institute of PathologyUniversity of FreiburgFreiburgGermany

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