a1 Cancer Epigenetics Laboratory, State Key Laboratory in Oncology in South China, Sir YK Pao Centre for Cancer, Department of Clinical Oncology, Hong Kong Cancer Institute and Li Ka Shing Institute of Health Sciences, Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is a prevalent tumour in southern China and southeast Asia, particularly in the Cantonese population, where its incidence has remained high for decades. Recent studies have demonstrated that the aetiology of NPC is complex, involving multiple factors including genetic susceptibility, infection with the Epstein–Barr virus (EBV) and exposure to chemical carcinogens. During development of the disease, viral infection and multiple somatic genetic and epigenetic changes synergistically disrupt normal cell function, thus contributing to NPC pathogenesis. NPC is highly radiosensitive and chemosensitive, but treatment of patients with locoregionally advanced disease remains problematic. New biomarkers for NPC, including EBV DNA copy number or methylation of multiple tumour suppressor genes, which can be detected in serum and nasopharyngeal brushings, have been developed for the molecular diagnosis of this tumour. Meanwhile, new therapeutic strategies such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy and immuno- and epigenetic therapies might lead to more specific and effective treatments.