The MET pathway plays a key role in various cancers, and its inhibition represents a potential treatment target. However, appropriate biomarkers are needed to facilitate the selection of patients who would benefit from MET inhibiting therapy. We herein conducted a robust confirmatory evaluation of the MET copy number alteration status and prognostic significance of c-Met expression in a large series of patients (n = 396) who underwent standard surgical resection and adjuvant chemoradiotherapy for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Surgically resected HNSCC samples were subjected to immunohistochemical and H-score analysis of c-Met expression and silver in situ hybridization analysis of MET amplification and copy number gains. c-Met expression varied, with mean and median H-scores (scale: 0-300 scale) of 61.2 and 60.0, respectively. The lowest and highest expression levels were observed in SCC of the larynx and oral cavity, respectively. MET copy number gains were observed in 16.9% of cases (67/339) and were associated with c-Met protein expression. High c-Met expression, determined according to MET gain status, was associated with an inferior overall survival rate, especially among completely resected cases. In conclusion, our robust analysis revealed that c-Met expression in HNSCCs varied according to anatomical site, correlated with MET copy number gains, and was associated with poor prognosis. This c-Met expression analysis method, which is based on the MET gain status, appears to appropriately predict high-risk HNSCC patients in the context of anti-MET therapeutic decisions.
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