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Br J Cancer. 2014 Jan 21;110(2):501-9. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2013.640. Epub 2013 Oct 15.

Tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes predict response to definitive chemoradiotherapy in head and neck cancer.

Author information

Department of Radiation Therapy and Oncology, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany.
Senckenberg Institute of Pathology, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany.
Department of Maxillofacial Surgery, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany.

Erratum in

  • Br J Cancer. 2014 Jan 21;110(2):547.



We aimed to investigate the prognostic value of tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes' (TILs) expression in pretreatment specimens from patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) treated with definitive chemoradiotherapy (CRT).


The prevalence of CD3+, CD8+, CD4+ and FOXP3+ TILs was assessed using immunohistochemistry in tumour tissue obtained from 101 patients before CRT and was correlated with clinicopathological characteristics as well as local failure-free- (LFFS), distant metastases free- (DMFS), progression-free (PFS) and overall survival (OS). Survival curves were measured using the Kaplan-Meier method, and differences in survival between the groups were estimated using the log-rank test. Prognostic effects of TIL subset density were determined using the Cox regression analysis.


With a mean follow-up of 25 months (range, 2.3-63 months), OS at 2 years was 57.4% for the entire cohort. Patients with high immunohistochemical CD3 and CD8 expression had significantly increased OS (P=0.024 and P=0.028), PFS (P=0.044 and P=0.047) and DMFS (P=0.021 and P=0.026) but not LFFS (P=0.90 and P=0.104) in multivariate analysis that included predictive clinicopathologic factors, such as age, sex, T-stage, N-stage, tumour grading and localisation. Neither CD4 nor FOXP3 expression showed significance for the clinical outcome. The lower N-stage was associated with improved OS in the multivariate analysis (P=0.049).


The positive correlation between a high number of infiltrating CD3+ and CD8+ cells and clinical outcome indicates that TILs may have a beneficial role in HNSCC patients and may serve as a biomarker to identify patients likely to benefit from definitive CRT.

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