Tumoral PD-L1 expression defines a subgroup of poor-prognosis vulvar carcinomas with non-viral etiology

Thomas Hecking, Thore Thiesler, Cynthia Schiller, Jean Marc Lunkenheimer, Tiyasha H. Ayub, Andrea Rohr, Mateja Condic, Mignon Denise Keyver-Paik, Rolf Fimmers, Jutta Kirfel, Walther Kuhn, Glen Kristiansen, Kirsten Kübler*

*Corresponding author for this work
13 Citations (Scopus)


Vulvar cancer is rare but incidence rates are increasing due to an aging population and higher frequencies of young women being affected. In locally advanced, metastatic or recurrent disease prognosis is poor and new treatment modalities are needed. Immune checkpoint blockade of the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway is one of the most important advancements in cancer therapy in the last years. The clinical relevance of PD-L1 expression in vulvar cancer, however, has not been studied so far. We determined PD-L1 expression, numbers of CD3+ T cells, CD20+ B cells, CD68+ monocytes/macrophages, Foxp3+ regulatory T cells and CD163+ tumorassociated macrophages by immunohistochemistry in 103 patients. Correlation analysis with clinicopathological parameters was undertaken; the cause-specific outcome was modeled with competing risk analysis; multivariate Cox regression was used to determine independent predictors of survival. Membranous PD-L1 was expressed in a minority of tumors, defined by HPV-negativity. Its presence geographically correlated with immunocyte-rich regions of cancer islets and was an independent prognostic factor for poor outcome. Our data support the notion that vulvar cancer is an immunomodulatory tumor that harnesses the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway to induce tolerance. Accordingly, immunotherapeutic approaches might have the potential to improve outcome in patients with vulvar cancer and could complement conventional cancer treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number54
Pages (from-to)92890-92903
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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