ARTICLE ABSTRACTTo study the dynamic changes in plasma Epstein–Barr virus (pEBV) DNA after radiotherapy in nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC).
We conducted a randomized controlled trial of adjuvant chemotherapy versus observation in patients with NPC who had detectable pEBV DNA at 6 weeks post-radiotherapy. Randomized patients had a second pEBV DNA checked at 6 months post-randomization. The primary endpoint was progression-free survival (PFS).
We prospectively enrolled 789 patients. Baseline post-radiotherapy pEBV DNA was undetectable in 573 (72.6%) patients, and detectable in 216 (27.4%) patients, of whom 104 (13.2%) patients were eligible for randomization to adjuvant chemotherapy (n = 52) versus observation (n = 52). The first post-radiotherapy pEBV DNA had a sensitivity of 0.48, specificity of 0.81, area under receiver-operator characteristics curve (AUC) of 0.65, false positive (FP) rate of 13.8%, and false negative (FN) rate of 14.4% for disease progression. The second post-radiotherapy pEBV DNA had improved sensitivity of 0.81, specificity of 0.75, AUC of 0.78, FP rate of 14.3%, and FN rate of 8.1%. Patients with complete clearance of post-radiotherapy pEBV DNA (51%) had survival superior to that of patients without post-radiotherapy pEBV DNA clearance (5-year PFS, 85.5% vs. 23.3%; HR, 9.6; P < 0.0001), comparable with patients with initially undetectable post-radiotherapy pEBV DNA (5-year PFS, 77.1%), irrespective of adjuvant chemotherapy or observation.
Patients with NPC with detectable post-radiotherapy pEBV DNA who experienced subsequent pEBV DNA clearance had superior survival comparable with patients with initially undetectable post-radiotherapy pEBV DNA. Post-radiotherapy pEBV DNA clearance may serve as an early surrogate endpoint for long-term survival in NPC.