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Clin Cancer Res. 2005 Aug 15;11(16):5856-62.

Quantitative determination of nuclear and cytoplasmic epidermal growth factor receptor expression in oropharyngeal squamous cell cancer by using automated quantitative analysis.

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Department of Medical Oncology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.



Several lines of evidence support the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) as a molecular target for therapy in head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC). Determination of tumor EGFR levels by conventional immunohistochemistry has not always predicted antitumor efficacy. Quantitative assays may provide more accurate assessment of the level of EGFR receptor in the tumor, which may thus provide more reliable prognostic and predictive information. We studied the prognostic value of quantitative assessment of EGFR in oropharyngeal squamous cell cancers treated with radiotherapy.


We studied EGFR protein expression on a tissue microarray composed of 95 oropharyngeal cancer cases using an in situ molecular-based method of quantitative assessment of protein expression (AQUA) and correlated those with clinical and pathologic data. Automated, quantitative analysis uses cytokeratin to define pixels as cancer (tumor mask) within the array spot and measures intensity of EGFR expression using a Cy5-conjugated antibody within the mask. A continuous index score is generated, which is directly proportional to the number of molecules per unit area, and cases were defined as high expressing if they were above the median expression level.


The mean follow-up time for survivors was 44.9 months, and for the entire cohort was 34.8 months. Patients with high tumor EGFR expression levels had a local recurrence rate of 58% compared with 17% for patients with low EGFR tumor expression (P < 0.01). Similarly, patients with high nuclear EGFR expression had a local recurrence rate of 54% compared with 21% for patients with low EGFR nuclear expression (P < 0.05). Additionally, patients with high tumor and nuclear EGFR levels had inferior disease-free survival compared with low expressors (19% versus 43% and 19% versus 45%, respectively. P < 0.05 for each). In multivariate analysis adjusting for well-characterized prognostic variables, high tumor and nuclear EGFR expression levels retained their prognostic significance.


The AQUA system provides a continuous measurement of EGFR on paraffin-embedded tissue and was able to reveal the association between EGFR expression and outcome expected from the biological role of EGFR. In the future, EGFR AQUA score may be useful in predicting response to EGFR-targeted therapies.

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