Reports on the prognostic role of programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression in rectal cancer are controversial. We investigated expression patterns and changes of PD-L1 in rectal cancer patients undergoing neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy (CRT). Seventy-two patients diagnosed with rectal cancer and/or treated with fluorouracil-based neoadjuvant CRT at the Department of Internal Medicine III of the Paracelsus Medical University Salzburg (Austria) between January 2003 and October 2012 were included. PD-L1 scoring was performed according to the tumor proportion score (TPS), combined positive score (CPS), and immune cell score (IC). PD-L1 TPS prior to neoadjuvant CRT had a statistically significant impact on survival (median: ≤1%: 95.4 months (95% CI: 51.8-not reached) vs. >1%: not reached, p = 0.03, log-rank). Patients with a PD-L1 TPS ≤1% prior to and after CRT showed an inferior survival compared to all other patients (median: 56.7 months (95% CI: 51.4-not reached) vs. not reached, p = 0.005, log-rank). In multivariate analysis, PD-L1 TPS prior to neoadjuvant CRT (>1% vs. ≤1%, hazard ratio: 0.29 (95% CI: 0.11-0.76), p = 0.01) remained independently associated with survival. In conclusion, low PD-L1 TPS was associated with inferior survival in rectal cancer patients undergoing neoadjuvant CRT. A prospective validation of the prognostic value of PD-L1 expression in rectal cancer patients within a clinical trial is necessitated.
Keywords: CPS; IC; TPS; programmed death-ligand 1; survival.