Epstein-Barr virus and human papillomavirus serum antibodies define the viral status of nasopharyngeal carcinoma in a low endemic country

Julia Simon, Lea Schroeder, Kate Ingarfield, Stefan Diehl, Jill Werner, Nicole Brenner, Zhiwei Liu, Michael Pawlita, Miranda Pring, Julia Butt, Andy Ness, Tim Waterboer

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Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) causes nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) in endemic regions, where almost every tumor is EBV-positive. In Western populations, NPC is rare, and human papillomavirus infection (HPV) has been suggested as another viral cause. We validated multiplex serology with molecular tumor markers, to define EBV-positive, HPV-positive, and EBV-/HPV-negative NPCs in the United Kingdom, and analyzed survival differences between those groups. Sera from NPC cases (N = 98) and age- and sex-matched controls (N = 142) from the Head and Neck 5000 clinical cohort study were analyzed. IgA and IgG serum antibodies against 13 EBV antigens were measured and compared with EBER in situ hybridization (EBER-ISH) data of 41 NPC tumors (29 EBER-ISH positive, 12 negative). IgG antibodies to EBV LF2 correctly diagnosed EBV-positive NPCs in 28 of 29 cases, while all EBER-ISH negative NPCs were seronegative to LF2 IgG (specificity = 100%, sensitivity = 97%). HPV early antigen serology was compared to HPV molecular markers (p16 expression, HPV DNA and RNA) available for 41 NPCs (13 positive, 28 negative). Serology matched molecular HPV markers in all but one case (specificity = 100%, sensitivity = 92%). EBV and HPV infections were mutually exclusive. Overall, 67% of the analyzed NPCs were defined as EBV-positive, 18% as HPV-positive and 14% as EBV/HPV-negative. There was no statistical evidence of a difference in survival between the three groups. These data provide evidence that both, EBV-positive and HPV-positive NPCs are present in a low incidence country, and that EBV and HPV serum antibodies correlate with the viral status of the tumor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Cancer
Early online date12 Apr 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Apr 2020


  • nasopharyngeal carcinoma
  • multiplex serology
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • human papillomavirus


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