Background: Tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) are often found in tumours, presumably reflecting an immune response against the tumour. We carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis, aiming to establish pooled estimates for survival outcomes based on the presence of TILs in cancer.
Methods: A Pubmed and Embase literature search was designed. Studies were included, in which the prognostic significance of intratumoural CD3+, CD4+, CD8+, and FoxP3+ lymphocytes, as well as ratios between these subsets, were determined in solid tumours.
Results: In pooled analysis, CD3+ TILs had a positive effect on survival with a hazard ratio (HR) of 0.58 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.43-0.78) for death, as did CD8+ TILs with a HR of 0.71 (95% CI 0.62-0.82). FoxP3+ regulatory TILs were not linked to overall survival, with a HR of 1.19 (95% CI 0.84-1.67). The CD8/FoxP3 ratio produced a more impressive HR (risk of death: HR 0.48, 95% CI 0.34-0.68), but was used in relatively few studies. Sample size and follow-up time seemed to influence study outcomes.
Conclusion: Any future studies should be carefully designed, to prevent overestimating the effect of TILs on prognosis. In this context, ratios between TIL subsets may be more informative.