Tumor Infiltration Levels of CD3, Foxp3 (+) Lymphocytes and CD68 Macrophages at Diagnosis Predict 5-Year Disease-Specific Survival in Patients with Oropharynx Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Cancers (Basel). 2022 Mar 15;14(6):1508. doi: 10.3390/cancers14061508.


Head and neck cancer (HNC) is the sixth most common cancer worldwide. Oropharyngeal (OP) cancers are of special interest because of possible underlying HPV infection which is tied to prognosis. Influxes of inflammatory cells into tumors may vary with prognoses. We wanted to study whether the number of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) and tumor-associated macrophages (TAM) in tumors correlated to HPV status and predicted 5-year disease-specific survival (DSS). Formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) biopsies cut sections from 170 patients treated for OP cancer were stained by immunohistochemistry and evaluated for the number of CD68 (+) TAMs, CD3 (+), and Foxp3 (+) (T regulatory) TILs. From FFPE slides HPV by PCR and p16 by immunohistochemistry were established. From FFPE Hematoxylin-Eosin slides, levels of tumor nuclear polymorphism, tumor invasion, desmoplasia, and inflammation were determined as previously published. Levels of TIL CD3 (+) and TIL Foxp3 (+) were increased among the HPV (+) compared to the HPV (-) patients. High levels of TIL Foxp3 (+) and CD68 (+) macrophages predicted better 5-year DSS. TIL Foxp3 (+) levels predicted independent of age, gender, TNM stage, and HPV infection as well as level of stromal desmoplasia, tumor invasion, and nuclear polymorphism, but more pronounced among tumor HPV (+) than HPV (-) patients.

Keywords: T lymphocyte; T regulatory lymphocyte; human papilloma virus; immunology; macrophage; oropharynx head neck cancer.