Objective: To characterize programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression and tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) positivity for locally aggressive or regionally metastatic cutaneous head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (cHNSCC).
Study design: Retrospective chart review, followed by immunohistochemical staining of archived tumor specimens.
Setting: Tertiary academic medical center.
Subjects and methods: After identification of 101 patients treated surgically for locally advanced or regionally metastatic cHNSCC, archived tissue was stained and graded for PD-L1 expression in addition to TIL presence. Cross-tabulation was performed to examine the association between either of these variables and clinicopathologic features and outcomes.
Results: A total of 101 patients met inclusion criteria, but archived tissue was available only for 83 (31 primaries, 52 metastases). The majority of primary tumors demonstrated grade 1 PD-L1 staining, while grade 2 staining was more likely for metastases. Neither high- nor low-grade PD-L1 expression correlated with any clinicopathologic variable for primary tumors. However, for metastases, high-grade staining was significantly associated with regional recurrence (15 of 19, P = .02). TILs were present for 65% of primary tumors and 90% of regional metastases but did not correlate with any clinicopathologic variables.
Conclusion: Diffuse expression of PD-L1 in this study highlights the possibility of using immunotherapy in the form of programmed death 1/PD-L1 blockade to improve treatment for this devastating disease. However, further studies are needed to clarify the significance of PD-L1 expression and TIL positivity for locally advanced or regionally metastatic cHNSCC.
Keywords: PD-1; PD-L1; cancer immunohistochemistry; cutaneous HNSCC.