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BACKGROUND: Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a major cause of nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) and measurement of different EBV antibodies in blood may improve early detection of NPC. Prospective studies can help assess the roles of different EBV antibodies in predicting NPC risk over time. METHODS: A case-cohort study within the prospective China Kadoorie Biobank of 512 715 adults from 10 (including two NPC endemic) areas included 295 incident NPC cases and 745 subcohort participants. A multiplex serology assay was used to quantify IgA and IgG antibodies against 16 EBV antigens in stored baseline plasma samples. Cox regression was used to estimate adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) for NPC and C-statistics to assess the discriminatory ability of EBV-markers, including two previously identified EBV-marker combinations, for predicting NPC. RESULTS: Sero-positivity for 15 out of 16 EBV-markers was significantly associated with higher NPC risk. Both IgA and IgG antibodies against the same three EBV-markers showed the most extreme HRs, i.e. BGLF2 (IgA: 124.2 (95% CI: 63.3-243.9); IgG: 8.6 (5.5-13.5); LF2: [67.8 (30.0-153.1), 10.9 (7.2-16.4)]); and BFRF1: 26.1 (10.1-67.5), 6.1 (2.7-13.6). Use of a two-marker (i.e. LF2/BGLF2 IgG) and a four-marker (i.e. LF2/BGLF2 IgG and LF2/EA-D IgA) combinations yielded C-statistics of 0.85 and 0.84, respectively, which persisted for at least 5 years after sample collection in both endemic and non-endemic areas. CONCLUSIONS: In Chinese adults, plasma EBV markers strongly predict NPC occurrence many years before clinical diagnosis. LF2 and BGLF2 IgG could identify NPC high-risk individuals to improve NPC early detection in community and clinical settings.

Original publication




Journal article


Int J Epidemiol

Publication Date





China, Epstein–Barr Virus (EBV), Nasopharyngeal cancer, case-cohort study, early detection, multiplex serology assay, Humans, Male, China, Female, Middle Aged, Herpesvirus 4, Human, Prospective Studies, Antibodies, Viral, Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma, Nasopharyngeal Neoplasms, Epstein-Barr Virus Infections, Adult, Immunoglobulin A, Early Detection of Cancer, Immunoglobulin G, Aged, Case-Control Studies, Proportional Hazards Models, East Asian People