Adaptive immune effectors do not influence prognosis in vulvar squamous cell carcinoma (vSCC). Therefore, we tried to clarify the prognostic role of innate immunity and granzyme B-dependent cytotoxicity as defined by intratumoral infiltrates of natural killer cells (CD56+) and lymphocytes expressing granzyme B (GrB+).
We analyzed 76 primary vSCCs and 35 lymph node metastases that were obtained from 76 patients with a full clinical history. The distribution and density of GrB+ and CD56+ cells within cancer tissues were evaluated by immunohistochemistry and correlated with clinicopathological features, commonly recognized prognostic factors and overall survival (OS).
CD56+ cells were mostly detected within the cancer nests, while GrB+ cells were predominant in the tumor stroma. Intraepithelial (IE) CD56+ infiltrates at the primary site were correlated with depth of invasion (r = 0.339, p = 0.003) and recurrence (r = 0.295, p = 0.011), while IE GrB+ infiltrates were correlated with tumor grade (r = 0.304, p = 0.009) and age (r = 0.333, p = 0.004). The primary cancer nests of metastatic patients were infiltrated more by intraepithelial (IE) CD56+ cells than were those of the non-metastatic patients (p = 0.05). The median OS was 41.16 months (range 1.7–98.43). High IE GrB+ infiltrates predicted longer OS among patients without metastases (p = 0.028). High IE CD56+ infiltrates were correlated with longer OS in metastatic cases (p = 0.009).
The combined cytotoxicity of innate and adaptive immune effectors infiltrating cancer nests (IE GrB+) predicts an improved clinical outcome among non-metastatic vSCC patients. The functional status of prognostic IE CD56+ infiltrates in immune escaped (metastatic) tumors requires further investigation.