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Keywords:

  • Cervical cancer;
  • lymph nodes metastases, metallothionein

Problem

The tumor microenvironment is made up of tissue that is responsible for the growth and progression of the tumor as well as its ability to initiate metastases. The cancer cells on the front of the tumor together with the macrophages and fibroblasts help to constitute the aggressive phenotype of the tumor. The presence of this aggressive phenotype is indicated by the local infiltration of cancer cells and by the development of lymph node metastases. In cases of uterine cancer, the extent of the local and distant spread of the disease is crucial for determining the type of therapeutic strategy to be applied – surgery alone, surgery followed by radio-chemotherapy, or radio-chemotherapy alone. In the interest of trying to improve the patient's quality of life, different studies supporting the therapeutic model of surgery alone have been conducted. While the cancer cells on the tumor front together with the macrophages and the fibroblasts help to constitute the aggressive phenotype of the tumor, metallothionein (MT) has been shown to have both pro-proliferative and anti-apoptotic activities and to participate in microenvironment remodeling. The aim of the current study was to determine the levels of MT immunoreactivity in the uterine cervical cancer cells as well as in the stromal fibroblasts and macrophages of the tumor microenvironment with respect to the depth of the local invasion and the extent of the distant metastases, so that its potential predictive value as a therapeutic strategy for cervical cancer can be ascertained.

Methods

We determined the levels of immunoreactivity of MT in a total of 57 carcinoma tissue samples (in the tumor front, in its central part, and in the macrophages and fibroblasts present within the tumor microenvironment). The patients from whom the samples derived were divided into groups with respect to the presence of lymph node metastases (distant spread) and to the depth of invasion (local spread) in relation to the FIGO stage.

Results

Metallothionein immunoreactivity was observed in uterine cervical cancer cells; it was also identified in the fibroblasts and macrophages found within the microenvironments of the tumors of patients suffering from the disease. The MT immunoreactivity level significantly increased within the whole cancer nest in relation to the FIGO stage (intensity of the local spread of the disease). Similarly, the infiltration of MT-positive CAFs and TAMs statistically significantly increased in relation to the FIGO stage.

Conclusion

The level of MT immunoreactivity found in the fibroblasts and macrophages within the tumor microenvironment seems to be indicative of the intensity of the remodeled cervical tumor microenvironment, and this in turn may be related to the local advancement of the disease. Moreover, it appears that the intensity of the metallothionein immunoreactivity in the immunoreactivity profile of the cervical tumor may be linked to both the depth of the local invasion and the extent of the distant advancement of the disease.