BACKGROUND: The immune system recognizes and destroys cancer cells. However, cancer cells develop mechanisms to avoid detection by expressing cell surface proteins. Specific tumour cell surface proteins (e.g. HLA-G, PD-L1, CDX2) either alone or in combination with the relative presence of immune cells (CD3 and CD8 positive T-cells) in the tumour tissue may describe the cancer cells' ability to escape eradication by the immune system. The aim was to investigate the prognostic value of immunohistochemical markers in patients with colon cancer.
METHODS: We conducted a retrospective study including patients diagnosed with pT3 and pT4 colon cancers. Immunohistochemical staining with HLA-G, PD-L1, CDX2, CD3, and CD8 was performed on tissue samples with representation of the invasive margin. PD-L1 expression in tumour cells and immune cells was reported conjointly. The expression of CD3 and CD8 was reported as a merged score based on the expression of both markers in the invasive margin and the tumour centre. Subsequently, a combined marker score was established based on all of the markers. Each marker added one point to the score when unfavourable immunohistochemical features was present, and the score was categorized as low, intermediate or high depending on the number of unfavourable stains. Hazard ratios for recurrence, disease-free survival and mortality were calculated.
RESULTS: We included 188 patients undergoing colon cancer resections in 2011-2012. The median follow-up was 41.7 months, during which 41 (21.8%) patients had recurrence and 74 (39.4%) died. In multivariable regression analysis positive HLA-G expression (HR = 3.37, 95%CI [1.64-6.93]) was associated with higher recurrence rates, while a preserved CDX2 expression (HR = 0.23, 95%CI [0.06-0.85]) was associated with a lower risk of recurrence. An intermediate or high combined marker score was associated with increased recurrence rates (HR = 20.53, 95%CI [2.68-157.32] and HR = 7.56, 95%CI [1.06-54.16], respectively). Neither high expression of PD-L1 nor high CD3-CD8 score was significantly associated with recurrence rates. Patients with a high CD3-CD8 score had a significantly longer DFS and OS.
CONCLUSIONS: In tumour cells, expression of HLA-G and loss of CDX2 expression were associated with cancer recurrence. In addition, a combination of certain tumour tissue biomarkers was associated with colorectal cancer recurrence.