Vascular endothelial growth factor expression and vascular density as prognostic markers of survival in patients with low-grade astrocytoma

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  • 1 Departments of Neurosurgery and Pathology, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, Michigan
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It has long been recognized that some patients with low-grade astrocytoma may survive for many years, whereas in others the disease follows a more malignant course resulting in a short survival time, usually due to malignant transformation into higher-grade tumors.

Object. The aim of this study was to investigate angiogenesis in the initial biopsy specimen of tumor tissue as a biological marker to identify patients with low-grade astrocytoma who are at high risk of malignant tumor transformation or death.

Methods. Tumor tissue was studied in 74 consecutively treated adult patients in whom a diagnosis of diffuse supratentorial hemispheric histologically proven fibrillary low-grade astrocytoma was made and who underwent surgery between January 1972 and January 1994. Studies were conducted using monoclonal antibodies to the antigens of the proliferation-associated Ki-67 (MIB-1), factor VIII, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), and epidermal growth factor (EGF).

The overall 5-year survival rate for the entire patient population was 65%, with a median survival time of 7.5 years. The total mean follow-up period was 6.1 years. All tumors showed a low proliferative potential at the time of the initial operation, as demonstrated by an MIB-1 labeling index of less than 1.5%. Patients with more than seven microvessels in tumor tissue (29 cases) had a shorter survival time (mean 3.8 years) than those with seven or fewer microvessels (mean survival 11.2 years). This difference in survival times was significant by univariate (p = 0.001) and stepwise multivariate analyses (p < 0.001). Tumors with a larger number of microvessels also had a greater chance of undergoing malignant transformation (p = 0.001). Similarly, significant staining for VEGF was correlated with shorter survival times when using univariate (p = 0.003) and multivariate (p = 0.008) analyses and with a greater chance of malignant transformation (p = 0.002). Patients with tumors staining positive for VEGF (39 individuals) had a median survival time of 5.3 years, and those with tumors negative for VEGF (35 patients) had a median survival time of 11.2 years. No association was observed between bFGF, EGF, and survival or malignant transformation. The stepwise multivariate analysis included histological and clinical variables simultaneously.

Conclusions. The authors have shown that microvessel density and VEGF levels are independent prognostic markers of survival in fibrillary low-grade astrocytoma. This finding leads them to propose that fibrillary diffuse low-grade astrocytoma is not a single pathological entity but is composed of a spectrum of tumors with differing propensities to undergo malignant transformation that is at least partly based on their inherent angiogenic potential.

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