Prognostic Significance of CD4+ and CD8+ Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocytes in Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma: A Meta-Analysis

Daniele Borsetto, Michele Tomasoni, Karl Payne, Jerry Polesel, Alberto Deganello, Paolo Bossi, James R Tysome, Liam Masterson, Giancarlo Tirelli, Margherita Tofanelli, Paolo Boscolo-Rizzo

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OBJECTIVE: It has been suggested that the presence of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) in the tumor microenvironment is associated with a better prognosis in different types of cancer. In this systematic review and meta-analysis, we investigated the prognostic role of CD4+ and CD8+ TILs in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC).

METHODS: PubMed, Cochrane, Embase, Scopus, and Web of Science were searched up to September 2020. This study was conducted following the preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses (PRISMA) checklist. Risk ratios from individual studies were displayed in forest plots and the pooled hazard ratios (HR) of death and corresponding confidence intervals (CI) were calculated according to random-effects models. Risk of bias of the included studies was assessed through the Newcastle-Ottawa scale.

RESULTS: 28 studies met the inclusion criteria. Studies conducted on HNSCC subsites combined reported a significant reduction in the risk of death for both high CD4+ (HR: 0.77; 95% CI: 0.65-0.93) and high CD8+ TILs (HR: 0.64; 95% CI: 0.47-0.88). High CD4+ TILs were associated with significantly better overall survival among oropharyngeal HNSCC (HR: 0.52; 95% CI: 0.31-0.89), as well as high CD8+ TILS in Human papillomavirus -ve and +ve cancers (HR: 0.39; 95% CI: 0.16-0.93 and HR: 0.40; 95% CI 0.21-0.76 respectively). CD8+ TILs were also associated with improved survival in hypopharyngeal cancers (HR = 0.43 CI: 0.30-0.63). No significant association emerged for patients with cancer of the oral cavity or larynx.

CONCLUSIONS: The findings from this meta-analysis demonstrate the prognostic significance of CD8+ and CD4+ TILs in HNSCC and variation in tumor subsite warrants further focused investigation. We highlight how TILs may serve as predictive biomarkers to risk stratify patients into treatment groups, with applications in immune-checkpoint inhibitors notable areas for further research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number781
Pages (from-to)1-15
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 13 Feb 2021


  • TIL
  • cancer
  • head and neck cancer
  • prognosis
  • tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte


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