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Open Access Research article

Quantification of Epstein-Barr virus DNA load, interleukin-6, interleukin-10, transforming growth factor-β1 and stem cell factor in plasma of patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma

Eng-lai Tan1*, G Selvaratnam2, R Kananathan2 and Choon-kook Sam3

Author Affiliations

1 School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, International Medical University, Bukit Jalil, 57000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

2 NCI Cancer Hospital, Jalan BBN 2/1, 71800 Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia

3 NPC Laboratory, Institute of Postgraduate Studies, University of Malaya, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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BMC Cancer 2006, 6:227  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-6-227

Published: 24 September 2006



Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is a common epithelial neoplasm among the Chinese populations in Southern China and South East Asia. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is known to be an important etiologic agent of NPC and the viral gene products are frequently detected in NPC tissues along with elevated antibody titres to the viral proteins (VCA and EA) in a majority of patients. Elevated plasma EBV DNA load is regarded as an important marker for the presence of the disease and for the monitoring of disease progression. However, other serum/plasma parameters such as the levels of certain interleukins and growth factors have also been implicated in NPC. The objectives of the present study are, 1) to investigate the correlations between plasma EBV DNA load and the levels of interleukin (IL)-6, IL-10, TGF-β1 and SCF (steel factor) and 2) to relate these parameters to the stages of NPC and the effect of treatment.


A total of 78 untreated NPC patients were enrolled in this study. Of these, 51 were followed-up after treatment. The remaining patients had irregular or were lost to follow-up. Plasma EBV DNA was quantified using real-time quantitative PCR. The levels of plasma interleukins and growth factors were quantified using ELISA.


A significant decrease in EBV DNA load was detected in plasma of untreated NPC patients (1669 ± 637 copies/mL; n = 51) following treatment (57 ± 37 copies/mL, p < 0.05); n = 51). Plasma EBV DNA load was shown to be a good prognosticator for disease progression and clinical outcome in five of the follow-up patients. A significant difference in IL-6 levels was noted between the untreated patients (164 ± 37 pg/mL; n = 51) and following treatment (58 ± 16 pg/mL, p < 0.05; n = 51). Positive correlations between EBV DNA load and IL-10 (r(49) = 0.535, p < 0.01), between IL6 and IL-10 (r(49) = 0.474, p < 0.01) and between TGF and SCF (r(49) = 0.464, p < 0.01) were observed in patients following treatment. None of the parameters tested including IgA-VCA were associated with tumour stages.


We conclude that among the parameters investigated, EBV DNA load and IL-6 levels were promising markers for the presence of NPC and for the assessment of treatment outcome.