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Keywords:

  • plasma Epstein-Barr virus DNA;
  • nasopharyngeal carcinoma screening;
  • early cancer detection;
  • molecular marker

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is prevalent in Southeast Asia. Over the last decade, plasma Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) DNA has been developed as a tumor marker for NPC. In this study, the authors investigated whether plasma EBV DNA analysis is useful for NPC surveillance.

METHODS:

In total, 1318 volunteers ages 40 to 60 years were prospectively recruited. Plasma EBV DNA and serology for viral capsid antigen immunoglobulin A (IgA) were measured. Participants who had detectable plasma EBV DNA or positive IgA serology underwent nasal endoscopic examination and a follow-up plasma EBV DNA analysis in approximately 2 weeks. All participants were followed for 2 years to record the development of NPC.

RESULTS:

Three individuals with NPC were identified at enrolment. All of them were positive for EBV DNA and remained positive in follow-up analysis. Only 1 of those patients was positive for EBV serology. In 1 patient who had NPC with a small tumor confined to the mucosa, the tumor was not detectable on endoscopic examination. Because of a 2-fold increase in plasma EBV DNA on the follow-up analysis, that patient underwent magnetic resonance imaging, which revealed the tumor. Among the participants who did not have NPC but had initially positive plasma EBV DNA results, approximately 66% had negative EBV DNA results after a median of 2 weeks.

CONCLUSIONS:

Plasma EBV DNA analysis proved useful for detecting early NPC in individuals without a clinical suspicion of NPC. Repeating the test in those who had initially positive results differentiated those with NPC from those who had false-positive results. Cancer 2013. © 2013 American Cancer Society.