AIMS: To evaluate the predictive value of the nuclear DNA content (image cytometry) and p53 overexpression (immuno-histochemistry using antibody CM-1) in uniformly treated stage I carcinomas of the mobile tongue. Also, to compare stage I carcinomas with advanced tongue carcinomas (stages II-IV). METHODS: Archival formalin fixed, paraffin wax embedded tumour specimens from 54 patients with stage I squamous cell carcinoma and 37 patients with advanced squamous cell carcinoma were analysed. Mean follow up time of the stage I carcinomas was 71 months (median, 62.5; range, 6-175). RESULTS: Twenty three patients (stage I) had recurring disease: 10 had local recurrence (in the tongue) and 13 had regional recurrence (cervical metastases). Locally recurring stage I carcinomas had a more pronounced DNA deviation than the other stage I carcinomas and this degree of deviation was comparable with the DNA content of advanced carcinomas. Stage I carcinomas that developed regional recurrences overexpressed p53 more frequently. In Cox multivariate regression analysis of time to recurrence, DNA deviation was a significant parameter in tumours that recurred locally (p = 0.032). p53 overexpression was the only parameter close to significance for regional recurrence (p = 0.065). CONCLUSIONS: Nuclear DNA content and p53 immunostaining are of value for the prediction of recurrence of stage I squamous cell carcinomas of the mobile tongue. Stage I tongue carcinomas that are prone to local recurrence show the same DNA content as do advanced tongue carcinomas.
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