OBJECTIVE: Dysregulation of the Hedgehog (Hh) pathway has been described in a variety of cancers, including cervical cancer, a disease which shares a common aetiology with vulval squamous cell carcinoma (VSCC). Here, we investigate a large number of primary VSCC cases for evidence of Hedgehog pathway activation and examine the implications of pathway activity on clinical outcomes in a cohort of patients with primary VSCC.
METHODS: Archival histology blocks containing VSCC and histologically normal adjacent epithelium were retrieved from a cohort of 91 patients who underwent treatment for primary VSCC. Immunohistochemistry staining was undertaken to assess for the expression of key Hh pathway components (SHH, PTCH1, GLI1). A competing risks statistical model was used to evaluate the implications of the levels of key Hh pathway components on clinical outcomes.
RESULTS: We show that 92% of primary VSCC cases over-expressed one or more components of the Hh signalling pathway when compared to the adjacent normal epithelium. While expression of SHH and GLI1 did not correlate with any clinicopathological criteria, over- or under-expression of PTCH1 was associated with a reduced or increased risk of developing a local disease recurrence, respectively. In VSCC arising on a background of Lichen Sclerosus, the risk of local recurrence was potentiated in cases where PTCH1 was under-expressed.
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings reveal, for the first time, that the Hh pathway is activated in VSCC and that PTCH1 expression can be used as a biomarker to stratify patients and inform clinicians of the risk of their local recurrence, particularly in cases of VSCC associated with LS.