Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin: molecular bases for EGFR-targeted therapy

Pathol Res Pract. 2011 Jun 15;207(6):337-42. doi: 10.1016/j.prp.2011.03.002. Epub 2011 Apr 29.


Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) ranks second in the frequency of all skin tumors. Its incidence has risen significantly due to an increased sun exposure and the number of immunocompromised patients. It has a well-defined progression with known precursor lesions called actinic keratosis. The degree of cellular differentiation, tumor thickness, location, and other features has prognostic value. It has a better prognosis than mucosal SCC of the head and neck, also called head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Ultraviolet light plays a fundamental role as an initiator and promoter of carcinogenesis of SCC, allowing the accumulation of genetic alterations that allows a selective growth advantage. The TP53 (p53) gene often mutates and Ras is frequently activated, but with low frequency of mutations. Normally, the extracellular signals determine whether the cells move from a quiescent state into an active proliferative state. In tumor cells an increase in the production of growth factors and its receptors can be often seen that gives rise to such an autocrine circuit facilitating cellular division. Recently, frequent mutations in the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) have been detected in lung cancer, mainly deletions in exon 19 and L858R mutation in exon 21. These are located at the EGFR tyrosine kinase domain (TK). EGFR TK mutations produce activation of the signaling pathways downstream and preferentially activated antiapoptotic pathways (PI3K/AKT, JAK-STAT and ERK/MAPK). These mutations are correlated with the clinical response of patients to tyrosine kinase inhibitors (gefinitib and erlotinib), because the tumor cells are addicted to the constant activation of specific signaling pathways. Glioblastoma shows another EGFR mutation (EGFRvIII), corresponding to a deletion of the extracellular domain, and it is present in 24-67% of these tumors. This variant has been found in 42% of HNSCC, related to the poor response to monoclonal antibody cetuximab. Many observations show that there are abnormalities in the expression of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and/or its ligands in HNSCC with frequent activation of multiple pathways downstream EGFR, and unrelated to RAS mutation. This suggests the possibility of activation by mutation or overexpression of a component of the pathway located upstream-Ras. While in other tumors, especially lung cancer and glioblastoma, the EGFR mutations are frequent genetic events, it is unknown whether EGFR is mutated or amplified in SCC of the skin and what would be its pathogenic role in this malignancy and its precursors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Carcinoma / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma / enzymology
  • Carcinoma / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / enzymology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics
  • ErbB Receptors / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • ErbB Receptors / genetics
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / genetics
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy*
  • Mutation
  • Neoplasms, Squamous Cell / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms, Squamous Cell / enzymology
  • Neoplasms, Squamous Cell / genetics
  • Precision Medicine
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Skin Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Skin Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Skin Neoplasms / genetics
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • EGFR protein, human
  • ErbB Receptors