Original Study| Volume 22, ISSUE 4, e555-e562, July 2021

Programmed Cell Death Ligand 1 Expression in Resected Non–Small Cell Lung Cancer

Published:October 14, 2020DOI:



      Recently, anti–programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) and anti–programmed cell death ligand 1 (PD-L1) immunotherapies have yielded promising outcomes for patients with advanced non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and led to great interest in applying these agents to treat resectable early-stage NSCLC. The objective of our study was to evaluate PD-L1 protein expression in resectable early-stage NSCLC specimens from a large Northern European cohort, examine the relationship to clinical characteristics, and demonstrate the prognostic role in resected NSCLC.

      Materials and Methods

      A large cohort of 875 NSCLC tumors consisted of 337 patients from Sweden and 538 patients from Norway was studied. All the patients had undergone pulmonary resection, and most patients had had early-stage NSCLC. PD-L1 protein expression was assessed by immunohistochemistry using the Dako PD-L1 22C3 pharmDx kit. The tumor proportion score for PD-L1 protein expression was compared with comprehensive demographic and clinicopathologic data.


      The overall prevalence of PD-L1 protein expression in the resectable NSCLC cohort was 9.5% at a tumor proportion score cutoff of ≥ 50%. Stage I NSCLC had lower PD-L1 expression compared with that of the other stages (P = .0012). PD-L1 expression correlated with wild-type EGFR gene expression (P = .0156) and mutated KRAS gene expression (P = .0004). No significant association was found between PD-L1 expression and mortality after multivariable adjustment for clinical characteristics, although the survival curves showed PD-L1 expression significantly correlated with a poor prognosis in the total NSCLC cohort and in the adenocarcinoma subgroup.


      PD-L1 expression in the present large cohort of resectable NSCLC was relatively low compared with data from clinical trials of advanced NSCLC. PD-L1 expression correlated positively with tumor stage, wild-type EGFR, and KRAS mutation. PD-L1 expression was not found as an independent prognostic factor in the present study. These findings could be important in the future when evaluating the role of anti–PD-1/PD-L1 immunotherapy in the setting of neoadjuvant or adjuvant trials for early-stage resectable NSCLC.


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