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HPV-independent, p53-wild-type vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia: a review of nomenclature and the journey to characterize verruciform and acanthotic precursor lesions of the vulva

Abstract

Vulvar squamous cell carcinomas and their precursors are currently classified by the World Health Organization based on their association with high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV independent lesions often harbor driver alterations in TP53, usually seen in the setting of chronic vulvar inflammation. However, a group of pre-invasive vulvar squamous lesions is independent from both HPV and mutant TP53. The lesions described within this category feature marked acanthosis, verruciform growth and altered squamous maturation, and over the last two decades several studies have added to their characterization. They have a documented association with verrucous carcinoma and conventional squamous cell carcinoma of the vulva, suggesting a precursor role. They also harbor recurrent genomic alterations in several oncogenes, mainly PIK3CA and HRAS, indicating a neoplastic nature. In this review, we provide a historical perspective and a comprehensive description of these lesions. We also offer an appraisal of the terminology used over the years, going from Vulvar Acanthosis with Altered Differentiation and Verruciform Lichen Simplex Chronicus to Differentiated Exophytic Vulvar Intraepithelial Lesion and Vulvar Aberrant Maturation, the latter term having been recently proposed by the International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Diseases. In line with the recognition of these lesions by the 2020 World Health Organization Classification of Tumours as a neoplastic precursor, we herein propose the term HPV-independent, p53-wild-type verruciform acanthotic Vulvar Intraepithelial Neoplasia (HPVi(p53wt) vaVIN), which better conveys not only the pathology but also the neoplastic nature and the biologic risk inherent to these uncommon and challenging lesions. We outline strict morphologic and immunohistochemical criteria for its diagnosis and distinction from mimickers. Immunohistochemistry for p16 and p53 should be performed routinely in the diagnostic work-up of these lesions, and the morphologic alternative term vaVIN should be reserved for instances in which p16/HPV/p53 status is unknown. We also discuss management considerations and the need to further explore precursors within and beyond the spectrum of verruciform acanthotic vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia.

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Fig. 1: HPV-independent, p53-wild-type verruciform acanthotic Vulvar Intraepithelial Neoplasia.
Fig. 2: HPV-independent, p53-wild-type verruciform acanthotic Vulvar Intraepithelial Neoplasia.
Fig. 3: HPV-independent, p53-wild-type verruciform acanthotic Vulvar Intraepithelial Neoplasia.
Fig. 4: Differential diagnosis of HPV-independent, p53-wild-type verruciform acanthotic Vulvar Intraepithelial Neoplasia.
Fig. 5: Differential diagnosis of HPV-independent, p53-wild-type verruciform acanthotic Vulvar Intraepithelial Neoplasia.
Fig. 6: Vulvar squamous cell carcinoma arising in a background of HPV-independent, p53-wild-type verruciform acanthotic Vulvar Intraepithelial Neoplasia.
Fig. 7: Differential diagnosis of HPV-independent, p53-wild-type verruciform acanthotic Vulvar Intraepithelial Neoplasia.
Fig. 8: Schematic representation of HPV-independent, p53-wild-type verruciform acanthotic Vulvar Intraepithelial Neoplasia.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank Dr. Christopher P Crum (Brigham and Women’s Hospital) for his insightful comments on the preliminary versions of this manuscript and, most importantly, for pioneering the work that has led to our current understanding of HPVi(p53wt) vaVIN.

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CPH, MN and JW participated in the conception and initial writing of the review article. CPH led the literature review including reference citations, and prepared figures and tables. NS, NR, BH, LH, TB, and BG participated in the discussion, editing and final consensus on the contents of the review article.

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Correspondence to Carlos Parra-Herran.

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Parra-Herran, C., Nucci, M.R., Singh, N. et al. HPV-independent, p53-wild-type vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia: a review of nomenclature and the journey to characterize verruciform and acanthotic precursor lesions of the vulva. Mod Pathol (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41379-022-01079-7

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