Tumor hypoxia, p53, and prognosis in cervical cancers

Gabriele Haensgen*, Ulf Krause, Axel Becker, Peter Stadler, Christine Lautenschlaeger, Wolfgang Wohlrab, Friedrich W. Rath, Michael Molls, Juergen Dunst

*Corresponding author for this work
53 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The p53 protein is involved in the regulation of initiation of apoptosis. In vitro, p53-deficient cells do not respond to hypoxia with apoptosis as do p53-normal cells, and this may lead to a relative growth advantage of cells without a functioning p53 under hypoxia. On the basis of this hypothesis, a selection of cells with a functionally inactive p53 may occur in hypoxic tumors. The development of uterine cervical carcinomas is closely associated with infections of human papilloma viruses, which may cause a degradation of the tumor suppressor gene p53, resulting in a restriction of apoptosis. Thus, cervical cancers have often a functionally inactive p53. The purpose of our clinical study was therefore to investigate the association between p53, hypoxia, and prognosis in cervical cancers in which the oxygenation status can be determined by clinical methods. Material and Methods: Seventy patients with locally advanced squamous cell cervical cancer Stages IIB (n = 14), IIIB (n = 49), and IVA (n = 7) were investigated in the period from 1996 through 1999. All were treated with definitive radiotherapy with curative intent by a combination of external radiotherapy plus high-dose-rate afterloading. Before therapy, tumor oxygenation was measured with a needle probe polarographically using the Eppendorf histograph. Hypoxic tumors were defined as those with pO2 measurements below 5 mm Hg (HF5). Pretreatment biopsies were taken and analyzed immunohistologically for p53 protein expression with the DO-7 antibody. The DNA index was measured by flow cytometry. The statistical data analysis was done with SPSS 9.0 for Windows. Results: The 3-year overall survival was 55% for the whole group of patients. Clinical prognostic factors in a multivariate analysis were pretreatment hemoglobin level (3-year survival 62% for patients with a pretreatment hemoglobin ≥11 g/dl vs. 27% for hemoglobin <11 g/dl, p = 0.006) and FIGO stage (Stage IIB: 65%; Stage IIIB: 60%; Stage IVA: 29%, p = 0.01). Sixty of the 70 tumors showed positive immunohistologic staining for p53 protein (transformed p53 = tp53), and 10/70 were negative (wild-type p53 = wtp53); p53 expression had no significant impact on survival (50% for tp53 vs. 79% for wtp53, p = 0.11). FIGO stage and anemia had no impact on p53 expression. Forty-nine of 70 tumors were hypoxic (HF5+), and 21 showed no hypoxia (HF5-). Hypoxic carcinomas were more frequently positive for p53 as compared to nonhypoxic tumors (27% vs. 13%, p = 0.011) and showed a trend toward a lower survival (48% vs. 70%, p = 0.07). In a further multivariate analysis, the impact of a combination of p53 expression and hypoxia on survival was examined. After adjusting for FIGO stage and pretreatment anemia, patients with wtp53 tumors had the best prognosis (3-year survival 79%) followed by tp53-HF5(-) patients (57%), and the most unfavorable prognosis was observed for tp53-HF5(+) patients (47%). The DNA index was higher in tp53 carcinomas compared to wtp53 tumors, 1.97 ± 0.4 vs. 1.67 ± 0.1, p = 0.05. The highest DNA index was found in hypoxic tumors with transformed p53 (2.2 ± 3.1). Conclusions: Advanced stage and pretreatment hemoglobin level are independent prognostic factors in cervical carcinomas. The immunohistologic detection of (a functionally inactive) p53 and the presence of hypoxia had no prognostic impact, if analyzed as single parameters. However, the combination of both parameters was able to discriminate different prognostic subgroups. Moreover, hypoxic cancers were more often immunohistologically positive for tp53 protein and had a higher DNA index with the highest DNA index in tumors with both hypoxia and tp53 protein expression. These findings in summary support the theory that the tumor's microenvironment may influence the biologic behavior via hypoxia.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)865-872
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 15.07.2001


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