Authors:  Oguejiofor K, Hall J, Slater C, Betts G, Hall G, Slevin N, Dovedi S, Stern PL, West CM

Issue:  Br J Cancer. 2015 Sep 15;113(6):886-93

PMID:  26313665


Patients with human papillomavirus (HPV)-positive oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) have a better prognosis than those with HPV-negative tumours. There is interest in de-escalating their treatment but strategies are needed for risk stratification to identify subsets with a poor prognosis. This study investigated tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) in relation to HPV tumour status and patient survival.

Biopsies from 218 patients diagnosed with OPSCC between 2002 and 2011, who underwent chemo/radiotherapy were analysed for HPV by PCR, in-situ hybridisation and p16 immunohistochemistry (IHC). One hundred and thirty-nine samples with concordant HPV detection were analysed for CD3, CD4, CD8 and FoxP3 expression in tumour and stromal regions using multiplexIHC and multispectral image analysis. Labelling of smooth muscle actin (SMA) identified activated stroma.

Human papillomavirus-positive compared with HPV-negative OPSCC had higher infiltration in both tumour and stromal areas of CD4 and CD8 T cells but not FoxP3 T regulatory cells. Only CD3+CD8+ stromal and not tumour area infiltration was associated with increased survival (P=0.02). There was significantly higher SMA expression in HPV-positive compared with -negative tumours, which did not correlate with survival.

Studies of TILs for risk stratification in OPSCC should assess stromal infiltration.