BACKGROUND: Heat shock proteins have been associated with the mutant form of the tumor suppressor genes, TP53, and with resistance to cancer chemotherapy. METHODS: Archival tissues from 50 patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma who received primary surgical resection were examined for p53, HSP27, and HSP70 by immunohistochemistry and correlated with tumor stage, grade, and 5-year survival (alive or deceased). RESULTS: Both heat shock proteins were strongly expressed in normal mucosa and in small (T1 and T2) tumors. Thirty (60%) of tumors were positive for p53, 43 (86%) for HSP27, and 34 (68%) for HSP70, with no association between p53 and heat shock protein expression. Twenty-five patients were alive (4 with disease), and 25 patients were deceased (9 from other causes). p53 Protein overexpression correlated with low-grade tumors. Only primary tumor site (i.e., oral cavity > larynx > oropharynx/base of tongue) and N stage were significantly associated with survival. CONCLUSIONS: Heat shock proteins are expressed in normal upper respiratory tract squamous mucosa, and their role in carcinoma remains unclear. None of the markers, p53, HSP27, or HSP70, demonstrated prognostic significance for 5-year survival. We confirm the recognized association of cervical lymph node metastases with decreased survival.
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