Patients with human papillomavirus (HPV) positive tonsillar and base of tongue squamous cell carcinoma (TSCC and BOTSCC, respectively) have a better clinical outcome than those with HPV negative tumours, irrespective of treatment. However, to better individualise treatment, additional biomarkers are needed together with HPV status. In a pilot study, we showed that high numbers of CD8(+) tumour infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) in HPVDNA+ p16(INK4a+) TSCC indicated a better outcome. Here this study was extended. Totally 203 TSCC and 77 BOTSCC formalin fixed paraffin embedded tumour biopsies, earlier tested for HPV DNA (79% HPVDNA+) and p16(INK4a) from patients treated with curative intention, were analysed for CD8(+) and CD4(+) TILs by immunohistochemistry. Data obtained for 275 patients were correlated to HPVDNA and p16(INK4a) status, overall survival (OS) and disease free survival (DFS). In both HPVDNA+ and HPVDNA+ p16(INK4a+) tumours higher CD8(+) TIL counts correlated to a better 3-year OS (logrank test, both p<0.001) and 3-year DFS (logrank test, p = 0.003 and p = 0.004 respectively) as compared to the lowest quartile in the groups. A similar pattern was observed when analysing TSCC alone, while for BOTSCC significance was obtained only for 3-year OS. In HPVDNA- tumours the trend was similar, but significance was obtained again only for 3-year OS. The number of CD4(+) TILs did not generally correlate to survival. In conclusion, in HPVDNA+ and/or HPVDNA+ p16(INK4a+) tumours high CD8(+) TIL counts indicated a better 3-year OS. This suggests that high CD8(+) TIL counts together with HPVDNA+ or HPVDNA+ p16(INK4a+) could be used when selecting patients for more individualised treatment.
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