Purpose: A retrospective study was made of the role of apoptosis in determining radiotherapy outcome in 39 adenocarcinoma of the cervix. A comparison was also made of the detection of apoptosis by morphology and the TdT dUtp nick end-labeling (TUNEL) assay.
Methods and materials: The level of apoptosis was assessed in paraffin-embedded sections by cell morphology, the TUNEL assay, and a combination of the two. A total of 2,000 cells were counted per section, to obtain apoptotic (AI) and mitotic (MI) indices.
Results: Patients with a high AI had a higher survival rate than those with a low AI, however, the difference was not significant. Using a ratio of apoptosis to proliferation indices, patients with an AI:MI > median had significantly better survival than those with AI:MI < median. This was true where the AI was quantified by morphology alone (p = 0.030) or in combination with the TUNEL assay (p = 0.008). Where the AI was quantified by a combination of morphology and TUNEL, the 5-year survival rates for women with AI:MI greater or less than the median were 81% and 25%, respectively.
Conclusion: A high ratio of AI:MI in adenocarcinoma of the cervix indicates a good prognosis. A combination of the TUNEL assay and morphology provided the best discrimination between outcome groups.