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  • Research article
  • Open Access
  • Open Peer Review

The prognostic value of lactate dehydrogenase levels in colorectal cancer: a meta-analysis

  • 1,
  • 1,
  • 1,
  • 1,
  • 1 and
  • 1Email author
Contributed equally
BMC Cancer201616:249

https://doi.org/10.1186/s12885-016-2276-3

  • Received: 22 March 2015
  • Accepted: 13 March 2016
  • Published:
Open Peer Review reports

Abstract

Background

The prognostic value of lactate dehydrogenase levels in the prognosis of colorectal cancer patients has been assessed for years, although the results remain controversial and heterogeneous. Thus, we comprehensively reviewed the evidence from studies that evaluated lactate dehydrogenase levels in colorectal cancer patients to determine their effect.

Methods

The following databases were searched in September 2014 to identify studies that evaluated the prognostic value of lactate dehydrogenase levels in colorectal cancer: PubMed, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials. We extracted hazard ratios (HRs) and the associated 95 % confidence intervals (CIs) from the identified studies, and performed random-effects model meta-analyses on the overall survival (OS) and progression-free survival (PFS). Thirty-two studies with a cumulative sample size of 8,261 patients were included in our analysis.

Results

Our meta-analyses revealed that high levels of lactate dehydrogenase were associated with poor OS (HR, 1.75; 95 % CI, 1.52–2.02) in colorectal cancer patients. However, this effect was not obvious in the OS of non-metastatic colorectal cancer patients (HR, 1.21; 95 % CI, 0.79–1.86). The prognostic value of lactate dehydrogenase levels on PFS was also not confirmed (HR, 1.36; 95 % CI, 0.98–1.87). Subgroup analyses revealed that the prognostic significance of lactate dehydrogenase was independent of study location, patient age, number of patients, metastasis, chemotherapy with anti-angiogenesis drugs, study type, or risk of bias.

Conclusions

Our results indicate that high lactate dehydrogenase levels are associated with poor OS among colorectal cancer patients, although these levels are not significant predictors of PFS.

Keywords

  • Lactate dehydrogenase
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Prognosis
  • Meta-analysis

Background

Colorectal cancer (CRC) represents the third most common malignancy throughout the world [1]. The prognosis for late stage CRC is extremely poor, and survival is often measured in months once metastases are present. Moreover, despite the fact that advances in modern systemic therapies for CRC have resulted in improved survival, the failure rate in the adjuvant setting is 30 % for high risk Stage II and Stage III patients, and the overall response rate is only 60 % for patients with Stage IV CRC [2, 3]. Therefore, it is necessary to discover biomarkers that can identify patients that are at-risk for disease recurrence and survival.

Cancer cells rely heavily on aerobic glycolysis to support their growth, a process that is known as the Warburg effect [4, 5]. Lactate dehydrogenase plays an important role in this process by mediating the conversion of pyruvate and lactate, and this enzyme is an emerging anticancer target [6]. In addition, elevated lactate dehydrogenase levels are consistently reported as a prognostic factor for poor survival among several cancer groups [7]. The authors conducted a prospective study, including various cancer types (liver, lung, bone, brain etc.), symptoms, signs and other serological variables, to evaluate LDH’s value as a predictor of survival time in terminal cancer patients. Their results demonstrated that serum LDH level was significantly associated with survival time (HR = 2.087, P = 0.002) in patients with terminal cancer [7]. Although a large number of studies have been performed among patients with CRC, the prognostic value of lactate dehydrogenase levels among CRC patients remains controversial. Thus, we conducted this meta-analysis to evaluate the prognostic value of lactate dehydrogenase levels among CRC patients.

Methods

Search strategy and selection criteria

The following databases were searched in September 2014: PubMed, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials. In addition, we examined the reference lists of relevant articles and review articles. No language restrictions or time limits were applied to the initial search. Search strategies, databases, and date ranges are provided in the supplemental material (Additional file 1). Eligibility criteria for inclusion in this meta-analysis were: [1] the study evaluated the correlation between lactate dehydrogenase levels and survival among CRC patients, [2] the study provided sufficient information for the estimation of hazard ratios (HRs) and their 95 % confidence intervals (CIs), and [3] the study was published in English, German, or French. Two reviewers (L.G.H. and W.Z.) independently screened the identified abstracts for eligibility, and disagreements were resolved by discussion. When multiple publications reported identical or overlapping patient cohorts (e.g., same authors, institutions), only the most informative study was included in the analysis.

Data extraction

Two investigators (L.G.H. and W.Z.) independently extracted the following data from the eligible articles: first author, year of publication, study location, sample size, patient age, site of disease, stage of disease, Lactate dehydrogenase cut-off value, use of adjuvant chemotherapy, prognostic outcomes, use of multivariate models, and study type.

Study quality assessment

The quality of the included studies was assessed using the modified risk of bias tool that is recommended by the Cochrane Collaboration, as previously described [8, 9]. Briefly, the criteria in Additional file 2 were used to assess the risk of bias of included studies. Each question is answered with “Yes” (indicating low risk of bias), “No” (indicating high risk of bias), and “Unclear” (indicating unclear or unknown risk of bias). The summary assessment of the risk of bias for the individual studies was carried out as follows: 1. Low risk of bias: Low risk of bias for all domains. 2.Unclear risk of bias: Unclear risk of bias for one or more domains. 3.High risk of bias: High risk of bias for one or more domains.

Statistical analyses

The prognostic value of lactate dehydrogenase levels for survival was measured using HRs. If an HR and the associated standard error or CI was not reported, we approximated the HR using the statistical data that was provided in the article (e.g., individual patient data or survival plots) [10, 11]. The extracted HRs were pooled using a fixed-effects model (weighted with inverse variance) or a random-effects model [12]. Our method consisted of using the fixed-effects model with an assumption of homogeneity in the individual HRs. Heterogeneity between studies was assessed using the χ2 and I2 statistics. If the assumption of homogeneity was rejected, the random-effects model was used [13].

HR >1 indicated a worsened prognosis in the high lactate dehydrogenase group, and a minimum of 3 studies was required to perform the meta-analyses. Sensitivity analysis was also conducted using sequential omission of individual studies to evaluate the stability of the results. Funnel plot analyses were used to evaluate publication bias [14]. All analyses were performed using STATA version 10.0, and a p-value <0.05 was considered statistically significant.

Results

Baseline study characteristics

We identified 32 eligible studies with a cumulative sample size of 8,261 patients (Fig. 1) [1547]. The median study sample size was 157 patients (range, 31–855 patients), and all eligible studies were published between 1988 and 2014 (Table 1). Thirteen studies were excluded owing to the inclusion of a patient cohort that was also used in the other selected studies (studies that were excluded and included were [24, 4859]). The extracted variables from the included studies are summarized in Table 1 (Abbreviations: FOLFOX, infusional fluorouracil, leucovorin, and oxaliplatin; FU, fluorouracil; IHC, immunohistochemistry; RCT, randomized controlled trial; NR, not reported; RMCS, retrospective multicenter cohort study; PSCS, prospective single-center cohort study; RSCS, retrospective single-center cohort study).
Fig. 1
Fig. 1

Flow chart for the study selection

Table 1

Baseline characteristics of included studies

   

Sample size

Age

 

LDH

   

First author

Year

Country

Total

Colon

Rectum

Median

Range

Tumor stage

Cutoff

Detection method

Adjuvant chemotherapy

Suvival analysis

Outcome report

Agrawal

2013

USA

146

NR

NR

NR

<=50

IV

200U/L

serum

NR

Univariate

OS

Alonso-Espinaco

2014

Spanish

157

NR

NR

NR

28–82

mCRC

NR

serum

FOLFOX/XELOX

Univariate Multivariate

OS PFS

Asmis

2011

Canada

544

NR

NR

NR

NR

NR

NR

serum

Cetuximab-based

Univariate Multivariate

OS

Caputo

2014

Italy

96

88

6

NR

18–80

T2T3T4/M0

248U/L

serum

NO

Univariate

OS PFS

Cetin

2012

Turkey

168

NR

NR

NR

NR

mCRC

NR

serum

anti-VEGF therapy

Multivariate

OS

Chibaudel

2011

France

535

349

177

65

29–80

mCRC

NR

serum

Oxaliplatin-Based or Irinotecan-Based First-Line Chemotherapy

Univariate Multivariate

OS

Diouf

2014

France

620

398

211

NR

18–80

mCRC

NR

serum

FOLFOX4 or FOLFOX7

Univariate Multivariate

OS

Formica

2013

Italy

31

26

5

69

41–83

mCRC

245U/L

serum

FOLFORIN + bevacizumab

Multivariate

PFS

Galizia

2008

Italy

65

53

12

NR

28–84

IV with liver metastasis

450U/L

serum

fluorouracil, folinic and acid, and oxaliplatin/irinotecan

Multivariate

OS

Giessen

2013

German

215

136

79

61.8

32–78

mCRC/liver metastas

250U/L

serum

FUFURI or mIROX

Multivariate

OS

Giessen

2014

Italy

249

0

249

64.6

30.6–90.7

I-III

171

serum

Chemotherapy/Radiotherapy/Concomitant chemoradiotherapy

Univariate

OS

Hannisdal

1994

Norway

100

0

100

69

33–87

Local regional relapse ± metastasis

500

serum

chemoradiotherapy

Multivariate

OS

He

2013

China

239

171

68

57

18–83

mCRC

245U/L

serum

Folfox/Xelox/Folfiri/Xeliri

Multivariate

OS

Koukourakis

2006

UK

128

78

50

67

41–88

Dukes B,C,D

NR

IHC

NO

Univariate

OS

Koukourakis

2011

Greece

179

NR

NR

NR

28–83

mCRC

NR

serum IHC

FOLFOX4 + vatalanib/placebo

Univariate Multivariate

OS

Lin

2006

USA

66

NR

NR

62

30–86

mCRC

618

serum

XCEL ± Radiation

Univariate

OS

Lin

2005

China

45

34

11

32

18–39

Dukes B,C,D

230

serum

5-FU based chemotherapy

Multivariate

OS

Machida

2008

Japan

103

66

37

62

29–80

mCRC

300

serum

LV-modulated 5-FU/irinotecan + 5-FU

Univariate

OS

Maurel

2007

Spain

120

NR

NR

66

33–82

mCRC

450

serum

5-FU + oxaliplatin/irinotecan

Multivariate

OS

Mekenkam

2012

Netherland

803

538

260

63

27–84

Advanced stage (curative surgery)

NR

serum

capecitabine, irinotecan, oxaliplatin: Sequential VS Combination

Multivariate

OS

Among the 32 studies that used serum lactate dehydrogenase levels to investigate their influence on patient prognosis, 2 studies [29, 30] used an immunohistochemistry method, and 1 study [30] used serum levels and immunohistochemistry methods. Twelve studies were graded with a low risk of bias (Additional file 2). Our analysis of lactate dehydrogenase levels as a prognostic factor was confirmed by the multivariate analysis in 19 of the included studies [16, 17, 1923, 25, 27, 28, 30, 32, 34, 35, 38, 4043]. An HR for overall survival (OS) and progression-free survival (PFS) was extracted from 27 and 8 studies, respectively. Funnel plot analyses did not reveal a significant publication bias regarding the analyzed outcomes (Additional file 3: Figure S1). However, the funnel plot B (PFS) does not allow to exclude a publication bias, because of limited number of studies.

The prognostic value of lactate dehydrogenase levels

Pooled analysis of OS in all studies using the random effects model revealed a significant prognostic value for lactate dehydrogenase levels in CRC patients (HR, 1.75; 95 % CI, 1.52–2.02; n = 27; I2 = 66.5 %; Fig. 2a). Sensitivity analyses revealed that heterogeneity was not caused by any one study. However, our meta-analyses using the random effects model did not confirm the prognostic value for lactate dehydrogenase levels in predicting PFS (HR, 1.36; 95 % CI, 0.98–1.87; n = 8; I2 = 87 %; Fig. 2b), and we observed a significant degree of heterogeneity. This heterogeneity could not be reduced substantially by the exclusion of any one study.
Fig. 2
Fig. 2

Meta-analyses of the association between lactate dehydrogenase levels and (a) overall survival or (b) progression-free survival. Squares and horizontal bars indicate the point estimates (HRs) with 95 % CIs for each individual study. Diamonds indicate the summary estimates for the hazard ratio. The width of the diamond corresponds to the 95 % CI

Subgroup analyses

Despite the limited number of included studies, the subgroup analyses of lactate dehydrogenase levels and survival were performed to thoroughly explore the results. We performed meta-regression and subgroup analysis of lactate dehydrogenase levels on OS according to study location, patient age, number of patients, metastasis, chemotherapy with anti-angiogenesis drugs, study type, and risk of bias. The results revealed that none of the investigated factors had a significant association with the heterogeneity (Table 2). However, subgroup analysis indicated a significant relation between high lactate dehydrogenase levels and reduced OS among metastatic CRC patients (HR, 1.96; 95 % CI, 1.61–2.37), although this effect was not significant among non-metastatic patients (HR, 1.21; 95 % CI, 0.79–1.86; Table 2). The effect of LDH on OS among different cutoffs for LDH is also shown in Table 2. The HRs were 1.93 (95 % CI 1.50 to 2.49) for LDH cutoff >300U/L, 1.84(95 % CI 1.08 to 3.13) for LDH cutoff 250 to 300U/L and 1.44 (95 % CI 0.94 to 2.21) for LDH cutoff <250U/L. There was no statistically significant heterogeneity between the different cutoffs for LDH (P for subgroup difference = 0.309). Our results suggest that relation between high lactate dehydrogenase levels and reduced OS among metastatic CRC patients disappears if the LDH cutoff value less than 250U/L (HR, 1.44; 95 % CI 0.94 to 2.21).
Table 2

Stratified analysis of pooled hazard ratios of lactate dehydrogenase on overall survival

   

Pooled HR (95 % CI)

 

Heterogeneity

Stratified analysis

No. of studies

No. of patients

Fixed

Random

Meta-regression on p-value

I2 (%)

p-value

Study location

    

0.581

  

 Asia

4

580

1.66 [1.29, 2.14]

1.82 [1.14, 2.9]

 

67.9

0.025

 Europe

19

5276

1.66 [1.53, 1.80]

1.67 [1.40, 2.0]

 

69.5

<0.001

 Other regions

5

1065

1.85 [1.52, 2.25]

2.07 [1.45, 2.94]

 

64.1

0.025

Age

    

0.563

  

  ≤ 50

2

191

1.98 [1.33, 2.94]

2.31 [1.04, 5.13]

 

63.1

0.1

 No limitation

22

5623

1.70 [1.57, 1.84]

1.77 [1.51, 2.08]

 

68.5

<0.001

Number of patients

    

0.68

  

  ≥ 100

22

6428

1.68 [1.56, 1.81]

1.73 [1.49, 2.01]

 

69

<0.001

  < 100

6

439

1.84 [1.66, 2.04]

1.96 [1.11, 3.43]

 

60.3

0.28

Metastasis

    

0.059

  

 Yes

16

5044

1.84 [1.66, 2.04]

1.96 [1.61, 2.37]

 

64.4

<0.001

 No

5

883

1.53 [1.29, 1.82]

1.21 [0.79, 1.86]

 

74.4

0.028

LDH cutoff

    

0.309

  

  > 300 U/L

7

764

1.93 [1.50, 2.49]

1.98 [1.41, 2.77]

 

29.1

0.206

 250–300 U/L

5

1028

1.61 [1.38, 1.88]

1.84 [1.08, 3.13]

 

88.6

<0.001

  < 250 U/L

6

1174

1.58 [1.31, 1.90]

1.44 [0.94, 2.21]

 

75.4

0.001

Chemotherapy with anti-angiogenesis drugs

    

0.64

  

 Yes

5

1675

1.75 [1.51, 2.02]

1.78 [1.41, 2.23]

 

57.3

0.053

 No

16

4166

1.60 [1.46, 1.75]

1.65 [1.40, 1.94]

 

54.8

0.003

Study type

    

0.863

  

 non-RCTa

22

3683

1.66 [1.51, 2.02]

2.03 [1.31, 3.13]

 

71.5

<0.001

 RCT

5

3238

1.73 [1.54, 1.94]

1.73 [1.54, 1.94]

 

<0.01

0.535

Risk of bias

    

0.31

  

 High

16

3142

1.52 [1.36, 1.68]

1.63 [1.28, 2.09]

 

76.5

<0.001

 Low

11

3799

1.87 [1.69, 2.07]

1.65 [1.28, 2.12]

 

<0.01

0.655

anon-RCT includes PSCS, RMCS and RSCS groups

Subgroup analysis of the other factors did not alter the significant prognostic value of lactate dehydrogenase levels in predicting OS.

We also performed meta-regression and subgroup analysis of lactate dehydrogenase levels and PFS. Owing to the limited number of included studies, only study location, number of patients, chemotherapy with anti-angiogenesis drugs, and risk of bias were explored. The results revealed that none of the investigated factors had a significant association with the heterogeneity (Table 3). Moreover, subgroup analysis revealed no relationship between lactate dehydrogenase levels and PFS among CRC patients.
Table 3

Stratified analysis of pooled harazd ratios of lactate dehydrogenase on progression free survival

   

Pooled HR (95 % CI)

 

Heterogeneity

Stratified analysis

No. of studies

No. of patients

Fixed

Random

Meta-regression on p-value

I2 (%)

p-value

Study location

    

0.196

  

 Asia

2

418

1.60 [1.33, 1.93]

3.20 [0.63,16.27]

 

93.8

<0.001

 Europe

6

1359

0.87 [0.71, 1.08]

1.15 [0.65, 2.04]

 

74.4

0.002

Number of patients

    

0.762

  

 ≥100

4

1483

1.16 [1.00, 1.34]

1.26 [0.72, 2.19]

 

89.5

<0.001

 <100

5

330

1.00 [1.001, 1.004]

1.59 [0.64, 3.98]

 

86.3

<0.002

Chemotherapy with anti-angiogenesis drugs

    

0.717

  

 Yes

6

1422

1.00 [1.001, 1.004]

1.36 [0.96, 1.98]

 

90.6

<0.001

 No

2

295

1.56 [1.06, 2.33]

1.80 [0.86, 3.80]

 

41.9

0.19

Risk of bias

    

0.805

  

 High

6

738

1.00 [1.001, 1.004]

1.51 [1.01, 2.25]

 

89.1

<0.001

 Low

3

1075

0.74 [0.57, 0.95]

1.31 [0.49, 3.53]

 

805

0.006

Discussion

This systematic review and meta-analysis revealed that high lactate dehydrogenase levels are associated with poor OS among patients with CRC. However, this prognostic value was not observed for PFS among CRC patients.

Despite the number of studies that have been conducted in this field, the prognostic value of lactate dehydrogenase levels among CRC patients has remained highly uncertain, given the inconsistent results from the previous studies. In the present study, pooled analyses of the available data revealed a significant association between high lactate dehydrogenase levels and poorer OS. However, there was insufficient statistical power to detect this association among patients with non-metastatic disease (Pooled HR1.21, 95 % CI [0.79, 1.86]).

There is recent evidence that the addition of anti-angiogenesis medication diminishes the impact of lactate dehydrogenase expression on the prognosis of CRC patients [30]. Besides, recent research reveals that high LDH is a significant indicator of bevacizumab-based chemotherapy-induced response to treatment for previously untreated metastatic colorectal cancer patients [60]. However, our meta-analysis did not detect a similar effect among CRC patients. This discrepancy may be attributed to the different kinds of anti-angiogenesis medications that were used in the previous study. Combined with the different dose that was employed for the anti-angiogenesis medications, there was insufficient statistical power to detect any differences in the survival of CRC patients (p = 0.64). However, our data supports the approach to aggregate results from the available studies regarding the prognostic significance of anti-angiogenesis drugs in CRC.

Interestingly, we detected significant heterogeneity among the studies that were included in this systematic review. However, sensitivity analysis did not identify the source of this heterogeneity. We did observe a wide range in the cut-off levels for lactate dehydrogenase; therefore, additional standardization should be addressed in the design of future studies, thereby enhancing the utility of their results. Most of the studies that we included focused on metastatic CRC patients, which could also be a source of bias. In addition, our approach of extrapolating the HRs from the survival plots might be another potential source of bias. Although we extracted the survival rates from survival curve graphs using Engauge software, this approach did not completely eliminate inaccuracies during the extraction of the survival rates. Moreover, the language of publication may have added additional bias, as the present review was restricted to articles published in English, German, or French, as other languages were not accessible for the readers. This bias could favor positive studies, which are more frequently published in English, as negative studies tend to be published in the authors’ native languages.

Conclusions

In conclusion, there is evidence that high lactate dehydrogenase levels indicate poor prognosis among CRC patients. However, subgroup analysis revealed no such prognostic value among non-metastatic CRC patients. These findings should encourage efforts to identify subpopulations with high lactate dehydrogenase levels that might put metastatic patients at a particular risk of poor survival.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets supporting the conclusions of this article are included within the article and its additional files.

Abbreviations

CRC: 

Colorectal cancer

OS: 

Overall survival

PFS: 

progression free survival

Declarations

Grant support

This work was not supported by any fund.

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
Department of Gastrointestinal Surgery, First Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University, 510080 Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, People’s Republic of China

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