Utility of Epstein-Barr Virus DNA in Nasopharynx Swabs as a Reflex Test to Triage Seropositive Individuals in Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma Screening Programs

Geng Hang Chen, Zhiwei Liu, Kelly J. Yu, Anna E. Coghill, Xiao Xia Chen, Shang Hang Xie, Dong Feng Lin, Qi Hong Huang, Yu Qiang Lu, Wei Ling, Chu Yang Lin, Zi Jian Lu, Yu Ying Fan, Lin Quan Tang, Joshua N. Sampson, Hui Li, Ann D. King, Jaap M. Middeldorp, Allan Hildesheim, Su Mei Cao

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5 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) DNA detection in the nasopharynx is considered a biomarker for nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC). We evaluated its performance as a reflex test to triage EBV seropositives within an NPC screening program in China. METHODS: The study population was embedded within an ongoing NPC screening trial and included 1111 participants who screened positive for anti-EBV VCA (antibodies against EBV capsid antigens)/EBNA1 (EBV nuclear antigen1)-IgA antibodies (of 18 237 screened). Nasopharynx swabs were collected/tested for EBNA1 gene EBV DNA load. We evaluated performance of EBV DNA in the nasopharynx swab as a reflex test to triage EBV serological high-risk (those referred to endoscopy/MRI) and medium-risk (those referred to accelerated screening) individuals. RESULTS: By the end of 2019, we detected 20 NPC cases from 317 serological high-risk individuals and 4 NPC cases from 794 medium-risk individuals. When used to triage serological high-risk individuals, nasopharynx swab EBV DNA was detected in 19/20 cases (positivity rate among cases: 95.0%; 95% CI, 75.1%-99.9%), with a referral rate of 63.4% (201/317, 95% CI, 57.8%-68.7%) and NPC detection rate among positives of 9.5% (19/201, 95% CI, 5.8%-14.4%). The performance of an algorithm that combined serology with triage of serology high-risk individuals using EBV DNA testing yielded a sensitivity of 72.4% (95% CI, 3.0%-81.4%) and specificity of 97.6% (95% CI, 97.2%-97.9%). When used to triage EBV serological medium-risk individuals, the positivity rate among cases was 75.0% (95% CI, 19.4%-99.4%), with a referral rate of 61.8% (95% CI, 58.4%-65.2%) and NPC detection rate among positives of 0.6% (95% CI, 0.1%-1.8%). CONCLUSIONS: Nasopharynx swab EBV DNA showed promise as a reflex test to triage serology high-risk individuals, reducing referral by ca. 40% with little reduction in sensitivity compared to a serology-only screening program.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)953-962
Number of pages10
JournalClinical Chemistry
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2022


  • cancer
  • epidemiology studies
  • molecular diagnostics

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