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Identifying intense inflammatory subtype of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma using clustering approach.

OBJECTIVE: To establish a risk-stratification system for predicting the postoperative recurrence of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, this study aimed to evaluate the prognostic value of clusters based on blood inflammation and coagulation markers and investigate their correlation with serum cytokines and genetic alteration.

METHOD: This single-center, retrospective cohort study enrolled 491 patients with esophageal cancer who underwent subtotal esophagectomy between 2004 and 2012. For cluster exploration, nonhierarchical cluster analysis and k-means were applied using serum C-reactive protein, albumin, fibrinogen, and platelet-lymphocyte ratio as variables. Then, multivariate survival analysis was conducted to investigate the association of clusters with recurrence-free survival. To characterize the clusters, serum interleukin-6, interleukin-8, and genetic alteration in primary tumors, the PleSSision-Rapid panel, which can evaluate 160 representative driver genes, was used.

RESULTS: Patients were classified into clusters 1, 2, and 3, which included 24 (5%), 161 (33%), and 306 (62%) patients, respectively. Compared with cluster 3, cluster 1 or 2 had significantly worse recurrence-free survival. Based on the multivariable analysis using cluster, pStage, and age as covariates, cluster was an independent prognostic factor for recurrence-free survival (hazard ratio, 1.55; 95% confidence interval, 1.08-2.21; P = 0.02). The percentage of serum interleukin-6 and interleukin-8 levels was the highest in cluster 1, followed by clusters 2 and 3. In 23 patients with available genomic profiles, no significant difference in representative genomic alterations was observed.

CONCLUSIONS: Non-biased clustering using inflammation and coagulation markers identified the intense inflammatory subtype, which had an independent prognostic effect on recurrence-free survival.

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