The biological importance of tumour-associated stroma is becoming increasingly apparent, but its clinical utility remains ill-defined. For stage II/Dukes B colorectal cancer (CRC), clinical biomarkers are urgently required to direct therapeutic options. We report here prognostic/predictive analyses, and molecular associations, of stromal morphometric quantification in the Quick and Simple and Reliable (QUASAR) trial of CRC.Relative proportions of tumour epithelium (PoT) or stroma (PoS) were morphometrically quantified on digitised haematoxylin and eosin (H&E) sections derived from 1800 patients enrolled in QUASAR, which randomised 3239 (91% stage II) CRC patients between adjuvant fluorouracil/folinic acid (FUFA) chemotherapy and observation. The prognostic and predictive values of PoT/PoS measurements were determined by the use of stratified log-rank analyses. A high proportion of tumour stroma (≥50%) was associated with an increased recurrence risk: 31.3% (143/457) recurrence for ≥50% versus 21.9% (294/1343) for <50% [rate ratio (RR) 1.62; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.30-2.02; P < 0.0001]. Of patients with stromal proportions of ≥65%, 40% (46/115) had recurrent disease within 10 years. The adverse prognostic effect of a high stromal proportion was independent of established prognostic variables, and was maintained in stage II/Dukes B patients (RR 1.62; 95% CI 1.26-2.08; P = 0.0002). KRAS mutation in the presence of a high stromal proportion augmented recurrence risk (RR 2.93; 95% CI 1.87-4.59; P = 0.0005). Stromal morphometry did not predict response to FUFA chemotherapy.Simple digital morphometry applied to a single representative H&E section identifies CRC patients with a >50% higher risk of disease recurrence. This technique can reliably partition patients into subpopulations with different risks of tumour recurrence in a simple and cost-effective manner. Further prospective validation is warranted.

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Section of Pathology and Tumour Biology, Leeds Institute of Cancer and Pathology, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK.


QUASAR trial collaborators and the UK National Cancer Research Institute Colorectal Cancer Clinical Studies Group