Tumor budding is thought to represent a manifestation of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and it has been correlated with poor patient outcomes in colorectal cancer (CRC). Our group recently demonstrated that human chorionic gonadotropin-β (hCGβ) modulates EMT in CRC. In the current study, based on the likely relationships between tumor budding and hCGβ expression, we examined their clinicopathologic significance in CRC. Twenty-eight of 80 (35.0%) CRC showed tumor budding. Tumor budding significantly correlated with lymph node metastasis (P < 0.01), pathologic stage (P < 0.01), lymphatic invasion (P = 0.044), and vascular invasion (P = 0.013). Thirteen of 80 (16.3%) CRC were hCGβ positive on immunohistochemistry. More tumor buds were present in the hCGβ-positive cases (P < 0.01), and tumor budding was significantly correlated with hCGβ positivity (P < 0.01). Cases with both tumor budding and hCGβ expression had the poorest prognosis compared with all other groups (P < 0.01). In conclusion, tumor budding and hCGβ expression are closely associated with EMT, and they are independent prognostic factors in CRC. They identify patients with an “EMT phenotype” who may respond to targeted molecular therapies.
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