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  • Primary research
  • Open Access

Prognostic role of galectin-3 expression in patients with solid tumors: a meta-analysis of 36 eligible studies

Contributed equally
Cancer Cell International201818:172

https://doi.org/10.1186/s12935-018-0668-y

  • Received: 22 June 2018
  • Accepted: 27 October 2018
  • Published:

Abstract

Background

Galectin-3 as a β-galactoside-binding protein, has been found to be involved in tumor cell growth, anti-apoptosis, adhesion, angiogenesis, invasion, and distant metastases, indicating that it may play a pivotal role in cancer development and progression. However, their results remain debatable and inconclusive. Hence, this meta-analysis was performed to clarify the precise predictive value of galectin-3 in various cancers.

Methods

PubMed, Web of Science, Embase, Cochrane Library, CNKI and Wanfang databases were searched comprehensively for eligible studies up to July 15, 2018. Pooled hazard ratios (HRs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) of OS or DFS/PFS/RFS were calculated to demonstrate their associations.

Results

A total of 36 relevant studies were ultimately enrolled in this meta-analysis. Our results shed light on the significant association of elevated galectin-3 expression with reduced OS or DFS/RFS/PFS in overall cancer patients (pooled HR = 1.79, 95% CI 1.42–2.27, I2= 67.3%, p < 0.01; pooled HR = 1.57, 95% CI 1.04–2.37, I2= 67.1%, p = 0.001). In tumor type subgroup analysis, we found high expression of galectin-3 was correlated with shorter OS or DFS/RFS/PFS in colorectal cancer (pooled HR = 3.05, 95% CI 2.13–4.35, I2= 0.0%, p = 0.734; pooled HR = 2.49, 95% CI 1.82–3.41, I2 = 0.0%, p = 0.738; respectively) and meanwhile it merely associated with reduced OS in ovarian cancer or non-small cell lung cancer (pooled HR = 2.24, 95% CI 1.38–3.64, I2= 0.0%, p = 0.910; pooled HR = 2.07, 95% CI 1.48–2.88, I2= 0.0%, p = 0.563; separately).

Conclusions

Taken together, our results suggested that galectin-3 played an oncogenic role in colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer and non-small cell lung cancer, indicating it could be a promising biomarker and a novel therapeutic target for them. Further studies were warranted to validate our findings.

Keywords

  • Prognostic role
  • Galectin-3
  • Cancer
  • Meta-analysis

Background

Galectins are a large family of widely distributed carbohydrate-binding proteins, characterized by their binding affinity for β-galactosides and conserved sequences in the binding site [1]. Meanwhile, galectins are often exhibited a high level of expression in cancer cells or cancer-associated stromal cells with the aggressiveness of tumors and the acquisition of the metastatic phenotype [2]. Because of their significant involvement in various biological functions and pathology, the role of galectins seems to be of importance [3]. Therein, galectin-3 also knew as LGALS3, L31, GAL3, MAC2, CBP35, GALBP and GALIG, belongs to the family of galectins [4]. In both extracellular and intracellular manners, galectin-3 exhibits its pleiotropic biological and molecular functions. Extracellularly, it has the ability to adjust microenvironment by means of interacting with the cell surface and extracellular matrix glycoproteins or glycolipids. Intracellularly, it was capable of modulating signaling pathways via interacting with cytoplasmic and nuclear proteins [5]. Up to now, a growing number of researches have suggested the involvement of galectin-3 in tumor progression and disease outcome [68].

Galectin-3 has been found to be differently expressed in various normal and malignant tissues. Previous studies indicated that down-regulation of galectin-3 was associated with loss of the transformed phenotypes in thyroid papillary carcinoma cells, but up-regulation of it could induce the transformed phenotype in normal thyroid follicular cell lines [9]. Accumulating data have demonstrated that different galectin-3 expression in tumor tissues was associated with unfavorable survival in cancer patients [1014]. These studies concentrated on colorectal carcinoma, cervical carcinoma, breast cancers, gastric carcinoma, laryngeal squamous-cell carcinoma and so on. However, their results remained inconsistent. The discrepancies among these studies highlighted the importance of evaluating the prognostic significance of galectin-3 in multiple human malignant neoplasms. Hence, this meta-analysis was conducted to clarify the relationship between galectin-3 expression and the prognosis of patients with carcinoma. Last but not least, it is the first time for us to shed light on their relationship and galectin-3 is anticipated to be a prognostic marker in clinical applications.

Materials and methods

Literature search strategy

We conducted a comprehensive search of online databases PubMed, EMBASE and Web of Science, Cochrane Library, Chinese National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) and Wanfang database (Chinese) to identify relevant literature published before July 15, 2018. The search strategy was mainly consisted of the following keywords in combination with Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) terms and text words: (“cancer” or “carcinoma” or “neoplasm” or “tumor” or “tumour”) and (“galectin-3” or “GAL3” or “LGALS3” or “L31” or “MAC2” or “CBP35” or “GALBP” or “GALIG”). In addition, potentially eligible articles were identified via meticulously searching from the reference lists of relevant reviews and original literature.

Inclusion and exclusion criteria

The eligible studies needed to meet the following four inclusion criteria: (1) English or Chinese publications; (2) patients with carcinoma; (3) a relationship of galectin-3 expression with cancer prognosis; (4) sufficient data could be extracted. Additionally, the exclusion criteria included the following points: (1) non-English or non-Chinese research; (2) duplicates of the previous publication; (3) reviews or letters or case reports or comments or editorials; (4) unrelated to galectin-3 or human patients; (5) absence of key information.

Quality assessment

The following information should be extracted from included articles before being evaluated: (1) the study population and country; (2) the study design; (3) assay method to determine galectin-3 expression; (4) the prognosis or survival assessment; (5) the detected tumor and pathology information; (6) the cutoff point of galectin-3; and (7) the follow-up duration. In addition, Newcastle–Ottawa Scale (NOS), as one of the most useful scale to evaluate the quality of non-randomized studies (http://www.ohri.ca/programs/clinical_epidemiology/oxford.htm), was independently evaluated by two blind reviewers [15]. The criteria of quality assessment were as follows: (1) representativeness of the exposed cohort; (2) selection of the non-exposed cohort; (3) ascertainment of exposure; (4) outcome of interest not present at start of study; (5) control for important factor or additional factor; (6) assessment of outcome; (7) follow-up long enough for outcomes to occur; (8) adequacy of follow up of cohorts. Total quality score of NOS was ranged from 0 to 9, which was regarded as high quality with the final score > 6. Details were presented in Table 1.
Table 1

Newcastle–Ottawa quality assessments scale

Studies

Year

Quality indicators from Newcastle–Ottawa Scale

Scores

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Chou [20]

2018

7

Lu [10]

2017

8

Huang [4]

2017

7

Li [11]

2017

7

Shimura [41]

2017

8

Wang [49]

2017

7

Liu [37]

2017

7

Gopalan [21]

2016

8

Ilmer [12]

2016

7

Yang [48]

2016

8

Tas [36]

2016

 

7

Cheng [40]

2015

7

Lu [47]

2015

8

Jiang [22]

2014

8

Gomes [23]

2014

8

Mu [44]

2013

7

Wu [45]

2013

7

Liu [46]

2013

6

Yamaki [24]

2012

8

Yang [25]

2012

5

Kim [26]

2012

7

Kosacka [38]

2011

6

Povegliano [27]

2010

7

Canesin [42]

2010

6

Vereecken [43]

2009

6

Miranda [28]

2009

6

Szoke [29]

2007

5

Kang [30]

2007

7

Moisa [39]

2007

6

Okada [13]

2006

7

Plzak [31]

2004

5

Piantelli [14]

2002

8

Brule [32]

2000

6

Honjo [33]

2001

6

Nakamura [34]

1999

8

Sanjuan [35]

1997

4

1. Representativeness of the exposed cohort; 2. Selection of the non-exposed cohort; 3. Ascertainment of exposure; 4. Outcome of interest not present at start of study; 5. Control for important factor or additional factor; 6. Assessment of outcome; 7. Follow-up long enough for outcomes to occur; 8. Adequacy of follow up of cohorts

Data extraction

All available data from the identified studies were extracted respectively by two reviewers (Y.W and SW.L). If any disagreement achieved, a third reviewer (Y.T) would join in and reached a consensus. Extracted data were recorded in a standardized form including following items: first author’s surname, publication year, patients’ median or mean age, nationality, dominant ethnicity, number of patients, investigating method, cutoff value, follow-up time, and hazard ratios (HRs) for prognostic outcomes (overall survival [OS] and disease/recurrence/progression-free survival [DFS/RFS/PFS]) along with their 95% CI and p-values. Data were extracted from Kaplan–Meier curves to extrapolate HRs with 95% CIs by using previously described methods, when it could not be directly obtained from each article [16, 17]. Details of the aforementioned data were displayed in Tables 2 and 3.
Table 2

Main characteristics of studies included in this meta-analysis

First author

Publication year

Case nationality

Dominant ethnicity

Median or mean age

Study design

Malignant disease

Main type of pathology

Detected sample

Assay method

Survival analysis

Source of HR

Maximum months of follow-up

Chou [20]

2018

China

Asian

50

R

Glioblastoma multiforme

Glioma

Tissue

ihc

OS/PFS

Reported

207

Lu [10]

2017

China

Asian

60

R

Colorectal cancer

AdenoCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

SC

40

Huang [4]

2017

China

Asian

60

R

Colorectal cancer

AdenoCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

Reported

50

Li [11]

2017

China

Asian

40

R

Cervical carcinoma

SqCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

Reported

78

Shimuraa [41]

2017

Japan

Asian

55

R

Biliary cancer

AdenoCa

Serum

ELISA

OS

Reported

69.9

Shimurab [41]

2017

Japan

Asian

55

R

Pancreatic cancer

AdenoCa

Serum

ELISA

OS

Reported

66

Wang [49]

2017

China

Asian

NM

R

Ovarian cancer

SqCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

Reported

72

Liu [37]

2017

China

Asian

65.1

R

Colorectal cancer

AdenoCa

Tissue

ihc

DFS

Reported

60

Gopalan [21]

2016

Australia

Caucasian

60

R

Colorectal cancer

AdenoCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

SC

110

Ilmer [12]

2016

American

Caucasian

47

R

Breast cancer

AdenoCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

SC

232

Yang [48]

2016

China

Asian

66.8

R

Colorectal cancer

AdenoCa

tissue

ihc

DFS

Reported

60

Tas [36]

2016

Turkey

Caucasian

59.5

R

Gastric cancer

AdenoCa

Serum

ELISA

OS

SC

97

Cheng [40]

2015

China

Asian

55.2

R

Gastric cancer

AdenoCa

Serum

ELISA

OS

SC

60

Lu [47]

2015

China

Asian

51

R

Ovarian cancer

SqCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

Reported

77

Jiang [22]

2014

China

Asian

50

R

Hepatocellular carcinoma

AdenoCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

Reported

87

Gomes [23]

2014

Brazil

Caucasian

50

R

Gastric cancer

AdenoCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

SC

55

Mu [44]

2013

China

Asian

66

R

Gastric cancer

AdenoCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

Reported

NM

Wu [45]

2013

China

Asian

59.6

R

Non-small cell lung cancer

SqCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

Reported

90

Liu [46]

2013

China

Asian

57.1

R

Non-small cell lung cancer

SqCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

SC

80

Yamaki [24]

2012

Japan

Asian

53

R

Breast cancer

AdenoCa

Tissue

ihc

OS/PFS

SC

13

Yang [25]

2012

China

Asian

45

R

Gallbladder carcinoma

AdenoCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

SC

18

Kim [26]

2012

Korea

Asian

60

R

Gastric cancer

AdenoCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

Reported

96

Kosacka [38]

2011

Poland

Caucasian

59.3

R

Non-small cell lung cancer

SqCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

SC

24

Povegliano [27]

2010

Brazil

Caucasian

50

R

Colorectal cancer

AdenoCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

SC

83

Canesin [42]

2010

American

Caucasian

NM

R

Bladder cancer

SqCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

SC

173

Vereecken [43]

2009

American

Caucasian

60

R

Melanoma

NM

Serum

ELISA

OS

Reported

60

Miranda [28]

2009

Brazil

Caucasian

59

R

Laryngeal carcinoma

SqCa

Tissue

ihc

DFS

SC

166

Szoke [29]

2007

German

Caucasian

58.8

R

Non-small cell lung cancer

SqCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

SC

127

Kang [30]

2007

Korea

Asian

63

R

Esophageal cancer

SqCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

SC

108

Moisa [39]

2007

Germany

Caucasian

56.8

R

Breast cancer

AdenoCa

Tissue

ihc

OS/DFS

Reported

185

Okada [13]

2006

Japan

Asian

63.9

R

Gastric cancer

AdenoCa

tissue

ihc

OS

Reported

72

Plzak [31]

2004

Prague

Caucasian

60

R

Head and neck carcinoma

SqCa

Tissue

ihc

OS

SC

60

Piantelli [14]

2002

Rome

Caucasian

60

R

Laryngeal carcinoma

SqCa

Tissue

ihc

OS/RFS

SC

90

Brule [32]

2000

Belgium

Caucasian

65

R

Prostate carcinomas

AdenoCa

Tissue

ihc

PFS

SC

86

Honjo [33]

2001

Japan

Asian

60

R

Tongue carcinoma

SqCa

Tissue

ihc

OS/DFS

SC

118

Nakamura [34]

1999

Japan

Asian

NM

R

Colorectal cancer

AdenoCa

Tissue

ihc

OS/DFS

SC

103

Sanjuan [35]

1997

Spain

Caucasian

NM

R

Colorectal cancer

AdenoCa

Tissue

ihc

OS/RFS

SC

96

R retrospective, AdenoCa adenocarcinoma, SqCa squamous carcinoma, IHC immunohistochemistry, OS overall survival, DFS disease-free survival, PFS progression-free survival, RFS recurrence-free survival, SC survival curve

a, bData extracted from one study due to different malignant disease (biliary cancer and pancreatic cancer)

Table 3

HRs and 95% CIs of patient survival or cancer progression relating to galectin-3 expression in eligible studies

First author

Year

Malignant disease

Main type of pathology

Survival analysis

Cut off point

Case number

OS

DFS/RFS/PFS

High expression

Low expression

HR (95% CI)

p-value

HR (95% CI)

p-value

Chou [20]

2018

Glioblastoma multiforme

Glioma

OS/PFS

IRS score ≥ 2 (range 0–2)

NM

NM

1.34 (0.59–3.03)

0.478

0.181 (0.025–1.299)

0.089

Lu [10]

2017

Colorectal cancer

AdenoCa

OS

IRS score ≥ 2 (range 0–3)

43

14

1.88 (0.88–5.23)

0.0086

NM

NM

Huang [4]

2017

Colorectal cancer

AdenoCa

OS

IRS score ≥ 2 (range 0–4)

51

66

2.39 (1.12–4.75)

0.015

NM

NM

Li [11]

2017

Cervical carcinoma

SqCa

OS

IRS score ≥ 7 (range 0–12)

45

39

14.00 (1.75–112.31)

0.013

NM

NM

Shimuraa [41]

2017

Biliary cancer

AdenoCa

OS

≥ 10.3 ng/ml

22

2

6.19 (1.18–32.36)

0.031

NM

NM

Shimurab [41]

2017

Pancreatic cancer

AdenoCa

OS

≥ 10.3 ng/ml

18

3

4.59 (1.17–17.68)

0.028

NM

NM

Wang [49]

2017

Ovarian cancer

SqCa

OS

30% of tumor cells stained

75

23

2.19 (1.17–4.02)

0.014

NM

NM

Liu [37]

2017

Colorectal cancer

AdenoCa

DFS

50% of tumor cells stained

38

23

NM

NM

2.10 (1.05–4.17)

< 0.05

Gopalan [21]

2016

Colorectal cancer

AdenoCa

OS

IRS score ≥ 3 (range 0–4)

69

4

4.00 (0.90–20.00)

0.052

NM

NM

Ilmer [12]

2016

Breast cancer

AdenoCa

OS

Hscore ≥ 150

23

64

0.69 (0.17–2.86)

0.019

NM

NM

Yang [48]

2016

Colorectal cancer

AdenoCa

DFS

IRS score ≥ 4

40

24

NM

NM

2.09 (1.09–3.79)

< 0.05

Tas [36]

2016

Gastric cancer

AdenoCa

OS

NM

29

29

0.79 (0.37–1.67)

0.54

NM

NM

Cheng [40]

2015

Gastric cancer

AdenoCa

OS

≥ 16.4 ng/ml

43

43

1.63 (0.72–3.66)

0.099

NM

NM

Lu [47]

2015

Ovarian cancer

SqCa

OS

IRS score ≥ 5

23

54

2.32 (1.05–5.10)

0.036

NM

NM

Jiang [22]

2014

Hepatocellular carcinoma

AdenoCa

OS

IRS score ≥ 4

135

30

7.51 (3.00–18.78)

< 0.01

NM

NM

Gomes [23]

2014

Gastric cancer

AdenoCa

OS

50% of tumor cells stained

31

26

0.73 (0.27–1.98)

0.798

NM

NM

Mu [44]

2013

Gastric cancer

AdenoCa

OS

≥ 10.0 ng/ml

NM

NM

1.58 (1.11–2.86)

0.013

NM

NM

Wu [45]

2013

Non-small cell lung cancer

SqCa

OS

IRS score ≥ 2 (range 0–2)

102

58

2.05 (1.15–3.67)

0.015

NM

NM

Liu [46]

2013

Non-small cell lung cancer

SqCa

OS

10% of tumor cells stained

52

10

3.09 (1.23–5.26)

0.045

NM

NM

Yamaki [24]

2012

Breast cancer

AdenoCa

OS/PFS

30% of tumor cells stained

67

49

0.90 (0.15–5.35)

0.041

0.46 (0.18–1.22)

0.018

Yang [25]

2012

Gallbladder carcinoma

AdenoCa

OS

25% of tumor cells stained

67

41

1.68 (1.05–2.69)

0.028

NM

NM

Kim [26]

2012

Gastric cancer

AdenoCa

OS

10% of tumor cells stained

397

74

0.80 (0.51–1.26)

0.331

NM

NM

Kosacka [38]

2011

Non-small cell lung cancer

SqCa

OS

10% of tumor cells stained

18

29

1.24 (0.38–4.05)

0.84

NM

NM

Povegliano [27]

2010

Colorectal cancer

AdenoCa

OS

50% of tumor cells stained

32

43

1.28 (0.01–138.79)

0.056

NM

NM

Canesin [42]

2010

Bladder cancer

SqCa

OS

20% of tumor cells stained

194

194

2.34 (1.81–3.02)

< 0.001

NM

NM

Vereecken [43]

2009

Melanoma

NM

OS

≥ 10.0 ng/ml

NM

NM

4.64 (2.17–9.91)

0.0001

NM

NM

Miranda [28]

2009

Laryngeal carcinoma

SqCa

DFS

NM

47

18

NM

NM

1.06 (0.44–2.60)

0.5284

Szoke [29]

2007

Non-small cell lung cancer

SqCa

OS

NM

51

41

1.86 (1.09–3.15)

0.003

NM

NM

Kang [30]

2007

Esophageal cancer

SqCa

OS

IRS score ≥ 2 (range 0–4)

18

44

0.98 (0.56–1.70)

0.227

NM

NM

Moisa [39]

2007

Breast cancer

AdenoCa

OS/DFS

IRS score ≥ 2 (range 0–3)

52

146

1.41 (1.16–3.89)

0.013

1.65 (0.91–2.87)

0.09

Okada [13]

2006

Gastric cancer

AdenoCa

OS

60% of tumor cells stained

60

55

0.26 (0.11–0.64)

0.0031

NM

NM

Plzak [31]

2004

Head and neck carcinoma

SqCa

OS

50% of tumor cells stained

23

30

0.30 (0.06–1.64)

0.0024

NM

NM

Piantelli [14]

2002

Laryngeal carcinoma

SqCa

OS/RFS

5% of tumor cells stained

42

31

0.54 (0.13–2.23)

0.0001

0.49 (0.20–1.21)

0.0013

Brule [32]

2000

Prostate carcinomas

AdenoCa

PFS

IRS score ≥ 1.5 (range 0–2)

25

102

NM

NM

3.45 (1.49–7.95)

0.044

Honjo [33]

2001

Tongue carcinoma

SqCa

OS/DFS

85% of tumor cells stained

31

23

3.51 (1.32–9.37)

0.012

2.30 (0.83–6.33)

0.021

Nakamura [34]

1999

Colorectal cancer

AdenoCa

OS/DFS

66.7% of tumor cells stained

36

71

3.63 (1.88–7.01)

0.014

2.65 (1.54–4.58)

0.0224

Sanjuan [35]

1997

Colorectal cancer

AdenoCa

OS/RFS

25% of tumor cells stained

83

68

4.15 (2.01–8.55)

0.0086

3.32 (1.67–6.60)

0.01

AdenoCa adenocarcinoma, SqCa squamous carcinoma, OS overall survival, DFS disease-free survival, PFS progression-free survival, RFS recurrence-free survival, NM not mentioned, IRS immunoreactivity score, Hscore the intensity and respective percentage cells that stain at each intensity were multiplied to reach a Hscore that ranged from 0 to 300, OS overall survival, HR hazard ratio, CI confidence interval

a, bData extracted from one study due to different malignant disease (biliary cancer and pancreatic cancer)

Statistical analysis

Based on available data, the relationship between galectin-3 and multiple human malignant neoplasms was conducted by OS or DFS/RFS/PFS and the pooled hazard ratios (HRs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were utilized to evaluate their efficacy. The effect of heterogeneity was quantified via I2= 100% × (Q − df)/Q. If significant heterogeneity (p < 0.1 or I2> 50%) existed, the random-effects model (DerSimonian–Laird method) would be applied; otherwise, a fixed-effects model (Mantel–Haenszel method) would be utilized [18]. Moreover, in the case of significant heterogeneity, subgroup analysis was carried out by the type of malignant disease and dominant ethnicity to further minimize the influence. Sensitivity analysis was conducted to access the stability of results by deleting one single study each time to reflect the impact of the individual to overall. Publication bias was evaluated by the Begg’s funnel plot and Egger linear regression test with a funnel plot [19]. If p < 0.05, it indicated the existence of publication bias. All p-values were calculated using a two-sided test and p < 0.05 was considered statistically significant. Besides, all statistical data were conducted by Stata software (version 12.0; StataCorp LP, College Station, TX) and Microsoft Excel (V.2007, Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, WA, USA).

Results

Summary of enrolled studies

The literature search yielded 1109 citations through online databases by means of previous search strategy. Amongst them, 970 records were excluded because of reviews, letters, case-reports, duplicates and so on, after screening the tittles and abstracts. The full texts of the remaining 139 articles were evaluated by the reviewers. Among them, 103 potentially suitable studies were excluded because of lacking sufficient survival data (HRs and 95% CIs), not related to OS or DFS/RFS/PFS, absence of key information. Ultimately, 36 studies were considered to be eligible for this meta-analysis (Fig. 1) [4, 1014, 2049].
Fig. 1
Fig. 1

Flow diagram of the literature selection process

Detailed quality assessments of each eligible article were presented in Table 1 and the main characteristics of these 36 enrolled studies were summarized in Tables 2 and 3. Amongst them, 33 studies focused on OS and 11 articles investigated DFS or PFS or RFS. 15 of these records focused on Caucasian populations, which mainly came from European countries, and 22 focused on Asian populations. As for cancer type, malignant neoplasms assessed in this article included colorectal carcinoma, gastric carcinoma, breast cancer, laryngeal squamous cell carcinoma (LSCC), esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC), glioblastoma multiforme, cervical carcinoma, hepatocellular carcinoma, gallbladder carcinoma, non-small cell lung cancer, head and neck carcinoma, prostate carcinomas, tongue carcinoma, biliary cancer, pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, bladder cancer and melanoma. Besides, all these aforementioned studies were retrospective.

OS associated with galectin-3 expression

A total of 33 eligible studies were enrolled to evaluate the role of elevated galectin-3 expression in multiple human malignant neoplasms by OS, within a random-effects model. Our results did indicate that high galectin-3 expression was significantly associated with unfavorable OS in overall cancer patients (pooled HR = 1.79, 95% CI 1.42–2.27, I2= 67.3%, p < 0.01; Fig. 2a). In the subgroup analysis of specific cancer type, we found high expression of galectin-3 correlated with reduced OS in colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer and non-small cell lung cancer (pooled HR = 3.05, 95% CI 2.13–4.35, I2= 0.0%, p = 0.734; pooled HR = 2.24, 95% CI 1.38–3.64, I2= 0.0%, p = 0.910; pooled HR = 2.07, 95% CI 1.48–2.88, I2= 0.0%, p = 0.563; respectively) (Fig. 2b). Furthermore, in terms of dominant ethnicity subgroup analysis, both the Asian and Caucasian ethnicity were statistically significant (pooled HR = 1.95, 95% CI 1.43–2.66, I2= 70.1%, p < 0.01; pooled HR = 1.58, 95% CI 1.07–2.33, I2= 63.7%, p = 0.001; separately) (Fig. 2c). Besides, no matter galectin-3 in the tissue or in the plasma, its elevated expression was associated with reduced OS (pooled HR = 1.72, 95% CI 1.34–2.20, I2= 67.6%, p < 0.01; pooled HR = 2.49, 95% CI 1.10–5.63, I2= 71.3%, p = 0.008; respectively) (Fig. 2d).
Fig. 2
Fig. 2

Forest plots of OS in association with galectin-3 in various cancers. a The overall group; b the subgroup analysis of cancer types; c the subgroup analysis of dominant ethnicity; d the subgroup analysis of detected samples

DFS/RFS/PFS associated with galectin-3 expression

A total of 11 original studies were included to evaluate the role of elevated galectin-3 expression in patients with various solid tumors by DFS/RFS/PFS, within a random-effects model. Our results successfully identified the significant association of high galectin-3 expression with reduced DFS/RFS/PFS in overall cancer patients (pooled HR = 1.57, 95% CI 1.04–2.37, I2= 67.1%, p = 0.001; Fig. 3a). In the subgroup analysis of specific cancer type, we found that high expression of galectin-3 was correlated with shorter DFS/RFS/PFS in colorectal cancer (pooled HR = 2.49, 95% CI 1.82–3.41, I2 = 0.0%, p = 0.738; Fig. 3b). However, In terms of dominant ethnicity subgroup analysis, both the Asian and Caucasian ethnicity were not statistically significant (Fig. 3c).
Fig. 3
Fig. 3

Forest plots of DFS/RFS/PFS in association with galectin-3 in various cancers. a The overall group; b the subgroup analysis of cancer types; c the subgroup analysis of dominant ethnicity

Sensitivity analyses

In order to determine the robustness and the stability of our results, sensitivity analysis was conducted to access the stability of results by deleting one single study each time, to reflect the impact of the individual to overall. Our results indicated that no single study significantly influenced the pooled OR and 95% CIs. Namely, our results are comparatively reliable and stable (Fig. 4).
Fig. 4
Fig. 4

Sensitivity analysis of each included study. a OS for individual studies. b DFS/RFS/PFS for individual studies

Publication bias

The combined application of Begg’s and Egger’s test was utilized to evaluate the publication bias and meanwhile the funnel plots were displayed in Fig. 5. In the pooled analysis of OS or DFS/RFS/PFS, the p values of Begg’s test and the p values of Egger’s test were all above 0.05, indicating no publication bias in this study.
Fig. 5
Fig. 5

Begg’s funnel plots of the publication bias. a OS for individual studies. b DFS/RFS/PFS for individual studies

Discussion

Up to now, elaborate efforts have been made to establish reliable and convincing evidence to detect promising biomarkers for patients with solid tumors. Galectins, as a family of animal carbohydrate-binding proteins, which had the ability to agglutinate cells, were considered to be potential biomarkers of cancer prognosis given their unique structure and functions into consideration [50, 51]. Over the past years, galectins have been implicated in the development of cancer, the pathogenesis of heart failure and ventricular remodeling, infectious processes, and inflammatory processes [52]. Amongst them, due to its differential expression between cancer and normal tissues, galectin-3 was regarded as one important member of galectins family. However, the definite role of galectin-3 in various human malignant neoplasms remained inconsistent. Hence, this meta-analysis was conducted to clarify this question.

It was the first time for us to shed light on the association between elevated galectin-3 expression and the prognosis of patients with solid tumors. Meanwhile, our results were the systematic evaluation of the prognostic outcomes (OS or DFS/RFS/PFS) in a larger population. Our results did suggest that galectin-3 play an oncogenic role in overall cancer patients. Moreover, we found that high expression of galectin-3 was correlated with shorter OS or DFS/RFS/PFS in colorectal cancer and meanwhile it merely associated with reduced OS in ovarian cancer or non-small cell lung cancer, indicating that it could be a promising biomarker and a novel therapeutic target for them. Furthermore, in subgroup analyses of dominant ethnicity, we observed that both the Asian and Caucasian ethnicity were statistically significant for OS, suggesting that the detection of high galectin-3 expression in these patients might be useful for prognosis prediction. Besides, the outcomes of us shed light on that no matter galectin-3 in the tissue or in the plasma, its role remained stable, indicating it could be a promising biomarker and a novel therapeutic target. Meanwhile, according to the results of sensitivity analyses and publication bias, no single study significantly influenced the pooled OR and 95% CIs and no obvious publication bias was detected in this meta-analysis, indicating the robustness and the stability of our results.

Previous researches indicated that increased expression of galectin-3 often predicted unfavorable outcomes and the level of galectin-3 was positively correlated with invasion of depth, vessel invasion, lymph node metastasis, distant metastasis, and TNM stages of various cancers [26, 53]. Tao et al. [37] demonstrated that the positive expression of galectin-3 was associated with more malignant biological behavior of colorectal cancer and it could be used as a predictor of poor prognosis for patients. As for tongue carcinomas, Honjo showed that cytoplasmic galectin-3 expression increased during the progression from normal to cancerous states, whereas nuclear galectin-3 expression decreased during the progression from normal to cancerous states, indicating that enhanced expression of cytoplasmic galectin-3 could serve as a predictor of disease recurrence in these patients [33].

As for its relevant mechanisms, several studies found that galectin-3 was expressed in both cytosol and nucleus [10, 54]. Therein as an important regulator of the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway, galectin-3 could activate the epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) in tumor cells to promote the invasion and metastasis of cancer [55, 56]. Furthermore, it could subsequently activate the Ras-mediated Akt signaling pathway to inhibit cell apoptosis by interacting with the activated GTP-bound K-Ras [57]. Besides, it could also modulate VEGF- and bFGF-mediated angiogenesis by binding its carbohydrate recognition domains (CRDs) to integrate αvβ3, and then promote the growth of new blood vessels [58].

As for the effects on heterogeneity, subgroup analysis was a way to discover their potential sources and even decrease the huge heterogeneity. As presented by our results, we could easily find that there might be the existence of significant heterogeneity of elevated galectin-3 expression in the overall cancer patients. So we conducted a subgroup analysis based on the specific cancer types and found that most of their heterogeneity decreased significantly, even with no heterogeneity. However, subgroup analysis of dominant ethnicity was not associated with significant reduction of heterogeneity, indicating that the dominating source of heterogeneity might be the different cancer types.

Sometimes, galectin-3 combined with another biomarker was often utilized simultaneously in prognostic outcome analyses, showing it might not be an independent factor affecting the prognosis of cancer patients. As indicated by Li et al. [11] the expressions of ezrin and galectin-3 were correlated with the development of cervical cancer, and over-expressions of those proteins were indicative of poor prognosis in patients with cervical cancer. Galectin-3 associated with cyclin D1 expression was also studied in non-small cell lung cancer. As a result, no important correlations with clinicopathological findings and no prognostic values were revealed between them. However, higher cyclin D1 expression was found in galectin-3 negative tumor tissues and the differences in correlations between their expressions in two main histopathological types of non-small cell lung cancer were also discovered [38].

The strength of this study was our broad search strategy with few restrictions to minimize any potential publication bias. Moreover, this was the first meta-analysis reporting the prognostic value of galectin-3 for cancers in the medical literature, which could provide some references for clinical work. Although this meta-analysis was performed with rigorous statistics, our conclusion still had several limitations for the following reasons. Firstly, different studies had their own varied expression cut-off values, which brought many difficulties for us to define the standard cutoff value, resulting in bias in the results of the effectiveness of galectin-3 as a prognostic factor in cancer patients. Secondly, heterogeneity existed in the total OS and DFS/RFS/PFS group and it was likely due to the different characteristics of the patients, such as the age, cancer type, different method in detecting samples and the varied cut-off values of galectin-3 expression. Thirdly, due to the insufficient studies, correlation between galectin-3 and OS or DFS/RFS/PFS in other tumor types has not been further analyzed. Fourthly, some essays studied galectin-3 combined with another biomarker in prognostic outcome analyses, showing galectin-3 was not an independent factor affecting the prognosis of cancer patients. Last but not least, all of these enrolled studies were derived from retrospective or observational data, which could not have a clear impact on group baseline features as RCTs. Upcoming prospective RCTs were required to provide more available data. Taking these aforementioned limitations into consideration, our results could be interpreted rigorously and meanwhile more well-designed studies were required to verify our findings.

Conclusions

In summary, it was the first time for us to shed light on the prognostic role of elevated galectin-3 expression in various cancers. Our results did suggest that galectin-3 played an oncogenic role in colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer and non-small cell lung cancer, indicating that it could be a promising biomarker for predicting the prognosis of patients with malignant neoplasms, and the biological functions of galectin-3 were of great research value of the subject. Due to the aforementioned limitations, larger samples of more strictly designed studies were required to provide more high-quality data to elaborate their associations.

Notes

Declarations

Authors’ contributions

NHS, XHM: protocol/project development; QJZ, XZ: data collection or management; YMW, YT: data analysis; YW, SWL: manuscript writing/editing. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the researchers and study participants for their contributions.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Availability of data and materials

All the data (pooled hazard ratios with 95% confidence intervals of OS or DFS/PFS/RFS) used to support the findings of this study are included within the article. Please contact author for data requests.

Consent for publication

Not applicable.

Ethics approval and consent to participate

Not applicable.

Funding

This article was funded by Medical key talent of Jiangsu Province: ZDRCA2016009 and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Number: 81871151; 81801438).

Publisher’s Note

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Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
Department of Urology, First Affiliated Hospital of Nanjing Medical University, No. 300 Guangzhou Road, Nanjing, 210029, Jiangsu, China

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