Neuroendocrine carcinoma (NEC) of the head and neck is a rare type of malignancy, accounting for only 0.3% of all head and neck cancers, and its clinicopathological and genomic features have not been fully characterized. We conducted a retrospective analysis of 27 patients with poorly differentiated NEC of the head and neck seen at our institution over a period of 15 years. Patient characteristics, adopted therapies, and clinical outcomes were reviewed based on the medical records. Pathological analysis and targeted sequencing of 523 cancer-related genes were performed using evaluable biopsied/resected specimens based on the clinical data. The most common tumor locations were the paranasal sinus (33%) and the oropharynx (19%). Eighty-one percent of the patients had locally advanced disease. The 3-year overall survival rates in all patients and in the 17 patients with locally advanced disease who received multimodal curative treatments were 39% and 53%, respectively. Histologically, large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma was the predominant subtype (58% of evaluable cases), and the Ki-67 labeling index ranged from 59 to 99% (median: 85%). Next-generation sequencing in 14 patients identified pathogenic/likely pathogenic variants in TP53, RB1, PIK3CA-related genes (PREX2, PIK3CA, and PTEN), NOTCH1, and SMARCA4 in six (43%), three (21%), two (14%), two (14%), and one (7%) patients, respectively. Sequencing also detected the FGFR3-TACC3 fusion gene in one patient. The median value of the total mutational burden (TMB) was 7.1/Mb, and three patients had TMB ≥ 10. Regardless of the aggressive pathological features, our data revealed favorable clinical characteristics in the patients with locally advanced disease who received curative treatment. The lower TP53 and RB1 mutation prevalence rates compared to those described for small cell lung cancer suggests the biological heterogeneity of NEC in different parts of the body. Furthermore, the FGFR3-TACC3 fusion gene and mutations in genes encoding the components of the NOTCH and PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathways found in our study may be promising targets for NEC of the head and neck.
© 2021. The Author(s).