Plasma Epstein-Barr virus DNA for pediatric Burkitt lymphoma diagnosis, prognosis and response assessment in Malawi

Int J Cancer. 2017 Jun 1;140(11):2509-2516. doi: 10.1002/ijc.30682. Epub 2017 Mar 24.


Point-of-care tools are needed in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to improve pediatric Burkitt lymphoma (BL) diagnosis and treatment. We evaluated plasma Epstein-Barr virus (pEBV) DNA as a pediatric BL biomarker in Malawi. Prospectively enrolled children with BL were compared to classical Hodgkin lymphoma (cHL) and nonlymphoma diagnoses. Pediatric BL patients received standardized chemotherapy and supportive care. pEBV DNA was measured at baseline, mid-treatment, and treatment completion. Of 121 assessed children, pEBV DNA was detected in 76/88 (86%) with BL, 16/17 (94%) with cHL, and 2/16 (12%) with nonlymphoma, with proportions higher in BL versus nonlymphoma (p < 0.001) and similar in BL versus cHL (p = 0.69). If detected, median pEBV DNA was 6.1 log10 copies/mL for BL, 4.8 log10 copies/mL for cHL, and 3.4 log10 copies/mL for nonlymphoma, with higher levels in BL versus cHL (p = 0.029), and a trend toward higher levels in BL versus nonlymphoma (p = 0.062). pEBV DNA declined during treatment in the cohort overall and increased in several children before clinical relapse. Twelve-month overall survival was 40% in the cohort overall, and for children with baseline pEBV detected, survival was worse if baseline pEBV DNA was ≥6 log10 copies/mL versus <6 log10 copies/mL (p = 0.0002), and also if pEBV DNA was persistently detectable at mid-treatment versus undetectable (p = 0.041). Among children with baseline pEBV DNA detected, viremia was the only significant risk factor for death by 12 months in multivariate analyses (adjusted hazard ratio 1.35 per log10 copies/mL, 95% CI 1.04-1.75, p = 0.023). Quantitative pEBV DNA has potential utility for diagnosis, prognosis, and response assessment for pediatric BL in SSA.

Keywords: Burkitt lymphoma; Epstein-Barr virus; Hodgkin lymphoma; sub-Saharan Africa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Burkitt Lymphoma / diagnosis*
  • Burkitt Lymphoma / pathology
  • Burkitt Lymphoma / virology*
  • Child
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / pathology
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / virology*
  • Female
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / genetics*
  • Hodgkin Disease / pathology
  • Hodgkin Disease / virology
  • Humans
  • Malawi
  • Male
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / diagnosis
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / pathology
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / virology
  • Plasma / virology*
  • Prognosis
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prospective Studies
  • Viral Load / methods


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • DNA, Viral