Colorectal cancer prognosis depends on T-cell infiltration and molecular characteristics of the tumor

Mod Pathol. 2011 May;24(5):671-82. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.2010.234. Epub 2011 Jan 14.


The aim of this study was to relate the density of tumor infiltrating T cells to cancer-specific survival in colorectal cancer, taking into consideration the CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP) and microsatellite instability (MSI) screening status. The T-cell marker CD3 was stained by immunohistochemistry in 484 archival tumor tissue samples. T-cell density was semiquantitatively estimated and scored 1-4 in the tumor front and center (T cells in stroma), and intraepithelially (T cells infiltrating tumor cell nests). Total CD3 score was calculated as the sum of the three CD3 scores (range 3-12). MSI screening status was assessed by immunohistochemistry. CIMP status was determined by quantitative real-time PCR (MethyLight) using an eight-gene panel. We found that patients whose tumors were highly infiltrated by T cells (total CD3 score ≥7) had longer survival compared with patients with poorly infiltrated tumors (total CD3 score ≤4). This finding was statistically significant in multivariate analyses (multivariate hazard ratio, 0.57; 95% confidence interval, 0.31-1.00). Importantly, the finding was consistent in rectal cancer patients treated with preoperative radiotherapy. Although microsatellite unstable tumor patients are generally considered to have better prognosis, we found no difference in survival between microsatellite unstable and microsatellite stable (MSS) colorectal cancer patients with similar total CD3 scores. Patients with MSS tumors highly infiltrated by T cells had better prognosis compared with intermediately or poorly infiltrated microsatellite unstable tumors (log rank P=0.013). Regarding CIMP status, CIMP-low was associated with particularly poor prognosis in patients with poorly infiltrated tumors (multivariate hazard ratio for CIMP-low versus CIMP-negative, 3.07; 95% confidence interval, 1.53-6.15). However, some subset analyses suffered from low power and are in need of confirmation by independent studies. In conclusion, patients whose tumors are highly infiltrated by T cells have a beneficial prognosis, regardless of MSI, whereas the role of CIMP status in this context is less clear.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / diagnosis*
  • Adenocarcinoma / genetics
  • Adenocarcinoma / immunology
  • Adenocarcinoma / mortality
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Colonic Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colonic Neoplasms / immunology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / mortality
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • CpG Islands / genetics
  • DNA Methylation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / immunology
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / pathology*
  • Male
  • Microsatellite Instability
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Prognosis
  • Rectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Rectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Rectal Neoplasms / immunology
  • Rectal Neoplasms / mortality
  • Survival Rate
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / pathology*