Background: Although preoperative radiotherapy (RT) is widely used as the initial treatment for locally advanced rectal cancer (RC) in the neoadjuvant setting, factors determining clinical response have not been adequately defined. Radiosensitivity has recently been shown to be greatly affected by immune function of the host.
Methods: In 48 cases of advanced RC, we retrospectively examined the density of tumor infiltrating CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells using immunohistochemical staining of biopsy samples before CRT, and examined the correlation with tumor response.
Results: The numbers of both CD4(+) and CD8(+) tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) in pre-CRT biopsy samples were strongly correlated with tumor reduction ratio evaluated by barium enema. Moreover, the densities of CD4(+) and CD8(+) TIL were significantly associated with histological grade after CRT. The density of CD8(+) TIL was an independent prognostic factor for achieving complete response after CRT.
Conclusions: In RC patients, T lymphocyte-mediated immune reactions play an important role in tumor response to CRT, and the quantitative measurement of TIL in biopsy samples before CRT can be used as a predictor of the clinical effectiveness of CRT for advanced RC.