Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is the most common head and neck malignancy in southeastern China and Taiwan. Early detection of the local disease followed by timely and appropriate treatment is essential to increasing cure and survival rates. Detection of Epstein–Barr virus (EBV) genomic DNA, such as the latent membrane protein 1 gene (LMP-1), in patients postirradiation during follow-up may indicate mucosal recurrence.
Seventy-one patients with NPC underwent serial nasopharyngeal swabs for LMP-1 polymerase chain reaction assay before, during, and after irradiation. All of patients achieved a complete disease remission of the LMP-1 gene after irradiation that lasted for at least 6 months.
The median LMP-1 disease remission time after the beginning of irradiation was 4.3 weeks. Patients with early LMP-1 disease remission (≤ 4 weeks after the beginning of irradiation) and delayed LMP-1 disease remission (> 4 weeks) had 3-year local control rates of 93.5% and 76.9%, respectively (P = 0.0529). The LMP-1 gene was detected again (reexpression of LMP-1 [re-LMP-1]) in 10 patients after irradiation with at least 6 months of follow-up. Nine of 10 patients (90%) in the re-LMP-1 positive group and 2 of 61 patients (3.3%) in the re-LMP-1 negative group developed local recurrence. Mucosal recurrence developed in nine patients, and all displayed re-LMP-1. By detecting re-LMP-1 using nasopharyngeal swabs, mucosal recurrence was diagnosed with a sensitivity of 100% (9 of 9 patients) and a specificity of 98.4% (61 of 62 patients). The 3-year overall survival rate, the disease free survival rate for the entire group, and the estimated local mucosal control rates in the re-LMP-1 positive and re-LMP-1 negative groups were 86.5%, 76.5%, 19.4%, and 96.7%, respectively.
Expression of EBV LMP-1 in nasopharyngeal swab specimens from patients with irradiated/treated NPC can provide a highly sensitive and specific method of forecasting mucosal recurrence. This investigation confirmed the reliability and feasibility of nasopharyngeal swabs in screening for mucosal recurrences in patients with NPC. Cancer 2003. © 2003 American Cancer Society.