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Clin Cancer Res. 2006 Oct 1;12(19):5726-32.

Prognostic significance of the Epstein-Barr virus, p53, Bcl-2, and survivin in nasopharyngeal cancer.

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  • 1Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto, and Division of Applied Molecular Oncology, Ontario Cancer Institute, 610 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



Nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) is a malignant epithelial carcinoma which is intimately associated with EBV. The latent presence of EBV affects the function of p53, Bcl-2, and survivin. We thus investigated the relationship between EBV status, p53, Bcl-2, and survivin in biopsy specimens from patients with primary NPC.


Archival formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded NPC biopsies were evaluated in 80 patients treated with curative radiation from a single institution. The presence of EBV was determined using EBER in situ hybridization, whereas p53, Bcl-2, and survivin were assessed using immunohistochemistry.


The majority of NPC specimens in this patient cohort were EBER-positive (64 of 78, or 82%), which in turn, was significantly associated with ethnicity (P = 0.0007), and WHO subtype 2A/2B (P = 0.04). EBER-positive tumors were also associated with p53 (P = 0.002), Bcl-2 (P = 0.04), and nuclear survivin (P = 0.03) expression. Patients with EBER-positive NPC fared better, with a 10-year overall survival of 68% versus 48% for EBER-negative patients (P = 0.03). For nuclear survivin, patients with either low or high nuclear survivin fared worse than patients with intermediate survivin expression (P = 0.05), suggesting that there is an optimal proportion of survivin-expressing cells for best function and clinical outcome.


With an extended median follow-up time of 11.4 years, EBV status remains a strong predictor for overall survival in NPC. EBV-positive NPC has strong molecular associations with p53, Bcl-2, and survivin expression. Furthermore, we provide clinical data revealing the potentially dual nature of survivin in predicting clinical outcome.

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