Local researchers said they have identified three distinct immunologic subtypes of oropharyngeal cancer (OPC) to predict the effectiveness of immunotherapies.
The new method will help physicians apply different treatment strategies depending on the patient’s immunologic properties, they said.
A research team of Professor Kim Hye-ryun at the Division of Medical Oncology at Yonsei Cancer Center, with researchers at the Department of Otorhinolaryngology of Yonsei University College of Medicine, published a study on immunologic classification of OPC in the latest issue of the British Journal of Cancer.
|From left, Professor Kim Hye-ryun and Professor Cho Byoung-chul at the Medical Oncology at Yonsei Cancer Center, Professor Koh Yoon-woo at the Department of Otorhinolaryngology of Yonsei University College of Medicine, and Professor Hong Min-hee at the Medical Oncology at Yonsei Cancer Center.|
OPC is a type of head and neck cancer, occurring in the throat, the tongue, the tonsils, the soft palate, and the walls of the pharynx.
According to data from the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service (HIRA), OPC patients increased from 767 in 2015 to 1,015 in 2019. The number of patients with OPC associated with HPV infection, in particular, has rapidly risen in the West and Korea.
The researchers said they collected specimens from 37 patients who either underwent surgery or received immunotherapy due to OPC and analyzed their RNA-sequencing data.
As a result, the researchers could classify OPCs into “immune-rich,” “mesenchymal,” and “xenobiotic” subtypes with distinct immune microenvironments.
Immune-rich OPC patients had a good prognosis after surgery and showed a high response to immunotherapies.
Mesenchymal types of OPC patients, whose T cells stay around the tumor but fail to penetrate the tumor, had a high activity of the TGF-beta pathway, which disrupts the body's immune system and promotes cancer growth and metastasis, the researchers said. Because of this, physicians might have to try a combination of immunotherapies and TGF-beta inhibitors in mesenchymal OPC patients, they added.
Xenobiotic OPC patients, who lack T cells, poorly responded to immunotherapies, and they need to find other treatment options, the research team said.
The paper was published under the title, “Molecular subtypes of oropharyngeal cancer show distinct immune microenvironment related with immune checkpoint blockade response,” in the British Journal of Cancer on April 1.
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