Basal cell carcinoma progression correlates with host immune response and stromal alterations: a histologic analysis

Am J Dermatopathol. 2006 Aug;28(4):293-307. doi: 10.1097/00000372-200608000-00002.


Neoplastic progression is characterized in part by escape from immune surveillance and formation of growth-permissive stroma. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) can be subclassified into low- and high-risk types for local recurrence. To determine whether these types of BCC correlate with alterations in local host immune response and stroma and whether these changes follow stepwise histologic progression from low- to high-risk subtypes, we assessed the clinicopathologic features in 175 consecutive primary (nonrecurrent) BCC excision specimens. BCCs exhibited a significantly higher frequency of mixed rather than homogeneous growth patterns (76% vs. 24%, P=0.0001). Nodular (84%) was the most common pattern identified followed by superficial (77%), infiltrative (27%), morpheic (5%) and micronodular patterns (4%). Only superficial (12% of all BCC) and nodular (12%) patterns were identified in BCC with a homogeneous histologic phenotype. Micronodular and infiltrative-morpheic patterns were not identified together in mixed patterned BCCs, and these high-risk types were contiguous with nodular BCC. Superficial predominant BCC (major growth pattern) was significantly associated with trunk and extremity location (76%) and skin without solar elastosis (82%), whereas BCC harboring a nodular growth pattern component was significantly associated with a head and neck location (63%) and the presence of adjacent solar elastosis (all P< or =0.03). Significant correlations were identified for BCC subtypes with inflammatory and stromal alterations: superficial BCC with old regression and moderate to dense peritumoral lymphocytic infiltrates; high-risk types correlated with active regression; infiltrative and morpheic BCC with fibrosing tumor stroma; and micronodular BCC with loss of both host inflammatory and stromal tumor responses. Evaluating the theoretical histologic stepwise model of BCC progression (superficial-to-nodular-to-micronodular, or superficial-to-nodular-to-infiltrative-to-morpheic BCC types) revealed significant linear correlations with host response and alterations of tumor stroma (r=0.54, P=0.0001). BCC exhibit distinct epithelial-stromal-inflammatory patterns that correlate with BCC subtype and tumor progression. This ostensible pathway of diminishing host response and gain of permissive tissue environment highlights neoplastic evolution from low to high risk for local recurrence of BCC and implicates a histologic continuum reflecting dynamic host-BCC interactions.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / immunology*
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / pathology*
  • Cell Shape
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Stromal Cells / immunology*
  • Stromal Cells / pathology*