A study conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has found that plasma Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) DNA analysis can help identify early stages of nasopharyngeal cancer.
The university announced on Thursday that the new screening procedure can help uncover people with asymptomatic nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) at a significantly earlier stage, boosting the chances for successful treatment.
Researchers at the university came to the conclusion after a study involving about 20,000 people.
More than 20,000 middle-aged Chinese males in Hong Kong without NPC symptoms were recruited between 2013 and 2016 to join the study, during which the participants screened with plasma EBV DNA analysis.
Among the participants, 309 persons had persistently positive results on initial and follow-up tests and were invited for further investigation with nasal endoscopic examination and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Out of 300 participants who were willing to undergo further investigation, 34 were confirmed to have NPC, CUHK said in a press release.
The study findings were released in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday.
Data from the Hong Kong Cancer Registry show there are more than 800 new NPC cases in Hong Kong every year.
Among the patients identified in the CUHK study, 71 percent were in Stage I/II of the disease, compared with 22 percent in Hong Kong’s historical cohort.
Meanwhile, 97 percent of the patients identified with NPC in the study were seen as having three-year progression-free survival, compared with a 70 percent historical cohort in the city.
There were three patients who screened positive but where the initial endoscopic examination did not find tumors. The tumors were later identified from MRI.
Another participant first screened positive but declined further investigation. The patient was then diagnosed with advanced-stage NPC at 32 months after joining the study, and died two months later.
NPC is closely associated with infection by the EBV. The presence of plasma EBV DNA containing short DNA fragments released by NPC cells will assist in identifying NPC patients.
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