Molecular and immunophenotypic characterization of anal squamous cell carcinoma reveals distinct clinicopathologic groups associated with HPV and TP53 mutation status

Mod Pathol. 2021 May;34(5):1017-1030. doi: 10.1038/s41379-020-00729-y. Epub 2021 Jan 22.


Squamous cell carcinoma (SqCC) is the most common malignancy of the anal canal, where it is strongly associated with HPV infection. Characteristic genomic alterations have been identified in anal SqCC, but their clinical significance and correlation with HPV status, pathologic features, and immunohistochemical markers are not well established. We examined the molecular and clinicopathologic features of 96 HPV-positive and 20 HPV-negative anal SqCC. HPV types included 89 with HPV16, 2 combined HPV16/HPV18, and 5 HPV33. HPV-positive cases demonstrated frequent mutations or amplifications in PIK3CA (30%; p = 0.027) or FBXW7 mutations (10%). HPV-negativity was associated with frequent TP53 (53%; p = 0.00001) and CDKN2A (21%; p = 0.0045) mutations. P16 immunohistochemistry was positive in all HPV-positive cases and 3/20 HPV-negative cases (p < 0.0001; sensitivity: 100%; specificity: 85%) and was associated with basaloid morphology (p = 0.0031). Aberrant p53 immunohistochemical staining was 100% sensitive and specific for TP53 mutation (p < 0.0001). By the Kaplan-Meier method, HPV-negativity, aberrant p53 staining, and TP53 mutation were associated with inferior overall survival (OS) (p < 0.0001, p = 0.0103, p = 0.0103, respectively) and inferior recurrence-free survival (p = 0.133, p = 0.0064, and p = 0.0064, respectively). TP53/p53 status stratified survival probability by HPV status (p = 0.013), with HPV-negative/aberrant p53 staining associated with the worst OS, HPV-positive/wild-type p53 with best OS, and HPV-positive/aberrant p53 or HPV-negative/wild-type p53 with intermediate OS. On multivariate analysis HPV status (p = 0.0063), patient age (p = 0.0054), T stage (p = 0.039), and lymph node involvement (p = 0.044) were independently associated with OS. PD-L1 expression (CPS ≥ 1) was seen in 30% of HPV-positive and 40% of HPV-negative cases, and PD-L1 positivity was associated with a trend toward inferior OS within the HPV-negative group (p = 0.064). Our findings suggest that anal SqCC can be subclassified into clinically, pathologically, and molecularly distinct groups based on HPV and TP53 mutation status, and p16 and p53 immunohistochemistry represent a clinically useful method of predicting these prognostic groups.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anus Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Anus Neoplasms / pathology
  • Anus Neoplasms / virology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / virology
  • DNA Mutational Analysis / methods
  • Female
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Humans
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / genetics*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / pathology
  • Papillomavirus Infections / virology
  • Prognosis
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics*


  • TP53 protein, human
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53