Epstein–Barr virus dynamics and its prognostic impact on nasopharyngeal cancers in a non-endemic region

2 Dec 2022
Rajitha Ganapathi, Kannan Sankara Reddiar, Kunnambath Ramadas

Background: Epstein–Barr virus (EBV) DNA quantification in nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) is an indicator of the tumour burden, stage and survival. Although EBV dynamics in endemic regions has been extensively studied and reported, the data from non-endemic regions is sparse. This study attempts to investigate the EBV dynamics in NPC patients from a non-endemic region and also to identify the factors impacting the outcomes.

Materials and methods: This was a prospective observational study conducted at a tertiary care centre in South India and enrolled patients with non-metastatic, biopsy proven NPC, who were suitable for radical chemo-radiotherapy with or without induction chemotherapy. Two blood samples, one prior to initiation of any anticancer treatment, and second at 6 weeks post treatment, were collected to quantify EBV DNA using real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Antibodies against EBV viral capsid antigen (EBV VCA IgM), EBV Early Antigen (EBV EA IgG) and EBV Nuclear Antigen (EBV EBNA IgG) were also measured in the sample. The impact of EBV dynamics on the outcomes was then analysed.

Results: The study included a total of 35 patients. Thirty-three had identifiable EBV DNA (94.3%) and a histological diagnosis of non-keratinising undifferentiated type of squamous cell carcinoma. There was no correlation between the EBV DNA and anti-EBV antibodies. There was a significant association between composite stage and pre-treatment DNA titre (p = 0.030). The mean EBV DNA titre was lower for patients with no clinically demonstrable disease at last follow-up and the reduction in EBV DNA titres was significant (p = 0.020) for those patients who remained disease free.

Conclusion: Plasma EBV DNA is an accurate and reliable biomarker for NPC for WHO type 2 and 3 tumours even in non-endemic regions.

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