Validation of the American Joint Committee on Cancer Staging in Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Vermilion Lip

Yung AE, Que MS, Lo S, Aggarwal S, Hong AM, Tin MM, Clark JR, Gupta R, Ch’ng S. Ann Surg Oncol. 2021 Jun;28(6):3092-3099.


Background: The vermilion lip is a unique anatomical junction between cutaneous and mucosal surfaces. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the vermilion lip (vlSCC) was previously classified as oral SCC (oSCC) under the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) 7th edition (AJCC7), but has been recategorized as a cutaneous SCC of the head and neck (HNcSCC) in the AJCC 8th edition (AJCC8). We investigated the locoregional control (LRC), disease-free survival (DFS), and overall survival (OS) for the various pathological T categories and disease stages of vlSCC as per AJCC8.

Methods: We performed a retrospective cohort study of 297 patients diagnosed with vlSCC between January 2004 and February 2019. For this study, vlSCC cases were staged according to both AJCC7 and AJCC8. Kaplan-Meier survival curves and Cox regression models were used to analyze differences in LRC, DFS, and OS between each pT category and disease stage, and log-rank tests were performed for subgroup analysis.

Results: Restaging of vlSCC using the AJCC8 resulted in 19% of patients being upstaged to pT3, and 16% being upstaged to stage III. No patients were downstaged in pT stage or overall stage.

Conclusions: Our study shows that when the AJCC8 HNcSCC staging system is applied to vlSCC, there are important aberrations leading to unwarranted upstaging of pT1 and redundancy of pT2. Understanding of these limitations are important in considering treatment escalation.