Author(s): Washington MK
CONTEXT: Colorectal carcinoma is one of the most common types of cancer in Western countries and is consistently ranked among the top 3 causes of cancer-related deaths, with approximately 150 000 new cases in the United States and 55 000 deaths in 2006. The pathologist's assessment of tumor stage and stage-independent morphologic features, such as vascular/lymphatic invasion, influences treatment strategies for the individual patient, such as the decision to offer adjuvant therapy after surgery. However, although the pathologist influences clinical care in colorectal cancer, certain aspects of staging and evaluation of prognostic factors remain challenging and confusing. OBJECTIVES: To present the currently used colorectal cancer staging system; to address challenging areas in pathologic staging, including T category considerations and recommendations for the minimum number of lymph nodes sampled; and to discuss assessment of selected stage-independent prognostic factors, such as vascular/ lymphatic invasion. DATA SOURCES: This review is based on the current staging manual from the American Joint Committee on Cancer, the College of American Pathologists Protocol for Examination of Specimens From Patients With Primary Carcinomas of the Colon and Rectum, and selected articles pertaining to colorectal carcinoma staging and prognostic factors accessible through Ovid Medline (National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Md). CONCLUSIONS: Proper assessment of pathologic staging for colorectal cancer and of morphologic prognostic factors requires a thorough understanding of staging guidelines and careful specimen dissection and sampling.