Molecular characterization of invasive and in situ squamous neoplasia of the vulva and implications for morphologic diagnosis and outcome

Mod Pathol. 2021 Feb;34(2):508-518. doi: 10.1038/s41379-020-00651-3. Epub 2020 Aug 13.


Human papillomavirus (HPV)-independent vulvar squamous cell carcinoma (VSCC) is an aggressive clinical entity. Current diagnostic guidelines for premalignant lesions are ambiguous, and their molecular profile and progression events are still unclear. We selected 75 samples, from 40 patients, including 33 VSCC, 8 verrucous carcinomas (VC), 13 differentiated-type vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (dVIN), 11 suspicious for dVIN (?dVIN), 6 differentiated exophytic vulvar intraepithelial lesions (DE-VIL), 2 vulvar acanthosis with altered differentiation (VAAD), and 2 usual-type vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (uVIN/HSIL). Invasive and precursor lesions were matched in 29 cases. Clinical information, p16 immunohistochemistry, and mutation analysis were performed on all lesions. All dVIN, ?dVIN, DE-VIL, and VAAD were p16 negative, all uVIN/HSIL were p16 positive. In the HPV-independent group, mutations were identified in 6 genes: TP53 (n = 40), PIK3CA (n = 20), HRAS (n = 12), MET (n = 5), PTEN (n = 4), and BRAF (n = 1). TP53 mutations occurred in 73% (22/30) VSCC, 85% (11/13) dVIN, 70% (7/10) ?dVIN and no VC (0/8), DE-VIL (0/6) nor VAAD (0/2). Basal atypia was the only reliable feature of TP53 mutations. ?dVIN lesions that were non-acanthotic and atypical but obscured by inflammation, all harbored TP53 mutations. In lesions without TP53 mutations, PIK3CA (50% VC, 33% DE-VIL, 100% VAAD, 40% VSCC) and HRAS (63% VC, 33% DE-VIL, 0% VAAD, 20% VSCC) mutations were found. Mutational progression from in situ to invasive was seen (7/26, 27%) and usually involved TP53 (4/26, 15%). Cases with TP53 and PIK3CA co-mutations had the worse clinical outcomes (p < 0.001). We recommend testing for p53 in all HPV-independent lesions suspicious for dVIN, even in the presence of marked inflammation or non-acanthotic skin, particularly when close to a margin. VC, VAAD, and DE-VIL, were almost never mutated for TP53, but instead often harbored PIK3CA and HRAS mutations. In VSCC, combined TP53 and PIK3CA mutations may inform prognosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma in Situ / genetics
  • Carcinoma in Situ / pathology*
  • Carcinoma in Situ / virology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / virology
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / genetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Papillomavirus Infections / complications
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics*
  • Vulvar Neoplasms / genetics
  • Vulvar Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Vulvar Neoplasms / virology


  • TP53 protein, human
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • PIK3CA protein, human