Sustained elevation of Epstein-Barr virus antibody levels preceding clinical onset of nasopharyngeal carcinoma

Br J Cancer. 2007 Feb 26;96(4):623-30. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6603609. Epub 2007 Feb 6.


We have monitored Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) IgA antibody levels of 39 nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) cases for up to 15 years before clinical onset of NPC, and assessed preclinical serologic status of another 68 cases. Our results identify a serologic window preceding diagnosis when antibody levels are raised and sustained. This window can persist for as long as 10 years, with a mean duration estimated to as 37+/-28 months. Ninety-seven of these 107 NPC cases exhibited such a window. Cases that did not may reflect individual antibody response to EBV. Serologic screening at enrollment identified those cases who had already entered the window and became clinically manifested earlier (median=28 months) than those who entered the window after enrollment (median=90 months). The former account for 19 of 21 cases diagnosed within 2 years of screening. Nasopharyngeal carcinoma risk levels among seropositive subjects were also highest during this period. Both prediction rates and risk levels declined thereafter; cases detected at later times were composed of increasing proportions of individuals who entered the serological window after screening. Our findings establish EBV antibody as an early marker of NPC and suggest that repeated screening to monitor cases as they enter this window has considerable predictive value, with practical consequences for cancer treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood*
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin A / blood*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nasopharyngeal Neoplasms / blood
  • Nasopharyngeal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Nasopharyngeal Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Risk Factors
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Serologic Tests / methods


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Immunoglobulin A