Tumour oxygenation and vasculature are determinants for radiation treatment outcome and prognosis in patients with squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck. In this study we visualized and quantified these factors which may provide a predictive tool for new treatments. Twenty-one patients with stage III-IV squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck were intravenously injected with pimonidazole, a bioreductive hypoxic marker. Tumour biopsies were taken 2 h later. Frozen tissue sections were stained for vessels and hypoxia by fluorescent immunohistochemistry. Twenty-two sections of biopsies of different head and neck sites were scanned and analysed with a computerized image analysis system. The hypoxic fractions varied from 0.02 to 0.29 and were independent from T- and N-classification, localization and differentiation grade. No significant correlation between hypoxic fraction and vascular density was observed. As a first attempt to categorize tumours based on their hypoxic profile, three different hypoxia patterns are described. The first category comprised tumours with large hypoxic, but viable, areas at distances even greater than 200 micrometer from the vessels. The second category showed a typical band-like distribution of hypoxia at an intermediate distance (50-200 micrometer) from the vessels with necrosis at greater distances. The third category demonstrated hypoxia already within 50 micrometer from the vessels, suggestive for acute hypoxia. This method of multiparameter analysis proved to be clinically feasible. The information on architectural patterns and the differences that exist between tumours can improve our understanding of the tumour micro-environment and may in the future be of assistance with the selection of (oxygenation modifying) treatment strategies.
Copyright 2000 Cancer Research Campaign.