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Nasopharyngeal Cancer


Bradley A. Schiff

, MD, Montefiore Medical Center, The University Hospital of Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Reviewed/Revised Dec 2022
Topic Resources

Nasopharyngeal cancers are cancers originating at the back of the nasal passage, from above the soft palate to the upper part of the throat.

  • People often develop lumps in their neck or may have a sensation of fullness or pain in the ears and may have hearing loss.

  • A biopsy is needed for diagnosis, and imaging tests are done to evaluate the extent of the cancer.

  • Treatment involves radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and sometimes surgery.

The Nose

The nasopharynx includes the back of the nasal passage from above the soft palate to the upper part of the throat. Most nasopharyngeal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, which means the cancer develops in the squamous cells that line the nasopharynx.

Nasopharyngeal cancer may occur in people of any age group. Although rare in North America, nasopharyngeal cancer is one of the most common cancers among people of China, especially those of southern Chinese, and Southeast Asian ancestry. This cancer is also more common among Chinese people who immigrated to North America than among other Americans. It is less common among American-born Chinese than their immigrant parents or grandparents.

The Epstein-Barr virus Infectious Mononucleosis Epstein-Barr virus causes a number of diseases, including infectious mononucleosis. The virus is spread through kissing. Symptoms vary, but the most common are extreme fatigue, fever, sore throat... read more Infectious Mononucleosis , which causes infectious mononucleosis, plays a role in the development of nasopharyngeal cancer. There is also a hereditary predisposition. In addition, children and young adults who eat large amounts of salted fish and food preserved with nitrites are more likely to develop nasopharyngeal cancer.

Locating the Nasopharynx

A Look Inside the Nose and Throat

Symptoms of Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Most often, nasopharyngeal cancer first spreads to lymph nodes Lymphoid organs The immune system is designed to defend the body against foreign or dangerous invaders. Such invaders include Microorganisms (commonly called germs, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi) Parasites... read more in the neck, causing lumps in the neck before other symptoms. Occasionally, persistent blockage of the nose or eustachian tubes may first cause a sensation of fullness or pain in the ears and hearing loss, particularly in one ear. If a eustachian tube is blocked, fluid may accumulate in the middle ear. A person also may have ear pain, a swollen face, a discharge of pus and blood from the nose, swollen lymph nodes Swollen Lymph Nodes Lymph nodes are tiny, bean-shaped organs that filter lymph fluid. They are located throughout the body, but particular collections are found just under the skin in the neck, under the arms,... read more Swollen Lymph Nodes , and nosebleeds. Part of the face or an eye may become paralyzed.

Diagnosis of Nasopharyngeal Cancer

  • Endoscopy

  • Biopsy

  • Imaging tests

Prognosis for Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Early treatment improves the prognosis of nasopharyngeal cancer significantly. About 60 to 75% of people with early-stage cancer have a good outcome and survive at least 5 years after the diagnosis. Less than 40% of people with stage IV cancer survive at least 5 years after the diagnosis.

Treatment of Nasopharyngeal Cancer

  • Radiation therapy

  • Chemotherapy

  • Sometimes surgery

In nasopharyngeal cancer, the tumor is treated with radiation therapy Radiation Therapy for Cancer Radiation is a form of intense energy generated by a radioactive substance, such as cobalt, or by specialized equipment, such as an atomic particle (linear) accelerator. Radiation preferentially... read more and chemotherapy Chemotherapy and Other Systemic Cancer Treatments Systemic treatments are those that have effects throughout the body rather than being applied directly to the cancer. Chemotherapy is a form of systemic treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer... read more because tumors in the nasopharynx are very difficult to remove using surgery. If the tumor recurs, radiation therapy is done again or, in very specific situations, surgery may be tried. This surgery is complex, however, because it typically involves removing part of the base of the skull. This surgery is sometimes done through the nose using an endoscope. In certain cases, this approach is just as effective as more invasive surgery and causes fewer complications.

More Information

The following English-language resource may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of this resource.

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