Background: Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is the most common head and neck malignancy in southeastern China and Taiwan. Early detection of the local disease followed immediately by proper treatment is essential to increase the cure and survival rates. Because every NPC tumor cell carries Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) genomes, detection of EBV genomic DNA such as latent membrane protein 1 gene (LMP1) might indicate the presence of NPC. We developed a simple and noninvasive technique of nasopharyngeal swabbing to acquire nasopharyngeal cells for detecting the presence of EBV genome. The aim of this study was to investigate the feasibility and reliability of this technique.
Methods: We collected nasopharyngeal cells by means of a nasopharyngeal swabbing technique and detected the presence of EBV LMP1 with polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Thirty-eight swab specimens were obtained from patients with NPC who were newly diagnosed or were just beginning radiotherapy. Two groups of control subjects were recruited, including 20 patients with other head and neck cancers and eight family members of the NPC patients. An additional group of 65 NPC patients were enrolled in the course of regular follow-up after definitive radiotherapy.
Results: All of the samples yielded sufficient DNA for PCR amplification. Thirty-six of 38 NPC swab samples were positive for EBV LMP1, and all the control subjects had swab sample results negative for EBV. All five patients with suspected local recurrence exhibited positive EBV test results.
Conclusions: Demonstration of EBV LMP1 in the nasopharyngeal swab specimens detected NPC with a sensitivity of 94.7% and specificity of 100%. This study confirms the reliability and feasibility of nasopharyngeal swab in the predicting and screening of NPC.