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Quick Facts

Nasopharyngeal Cancer


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision May 2020| Content last modified May 2020
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What is nasopharyngeal cancer?

The nasopharynx is the area in the upper part of your throat behind your nose. Nasopharyngeal cancer is cancer of the nasopharynx.

  • Nasopharyngeal cancer is most common in people who live in southern China and southeast Asia or in those whose families came from those areas—it’s rare in other groups

  • Nasopharyngeal cancer usually causes lumps in your neck

  • You may also have congestion in your nose, hearing loss or a feeling of fullness or pain in your ears, and blood in your spit or when you blow your nose

  • Doctors treat nasopharyngeal cancer with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and sometimes surgery

Locating the Nasopharynx

Locating the Nasopharynx

What causes nasopharyngeal cancer?

Doctors don’t know the exact cause of nasopharyngeal cancer. They think the Epstein-Barr virus (the virus that causes mono) plays a role. You’re more likely to get nasopharyngeal cancer if:

  • You have family members who’ve had nasopharyngeal cancer

  • Your diet has a lot of salted fish and foods with nitrates (such as hot dogs, sausage, and deli meat)

  • You're from southern China or southeast Asia

What are the symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer?

The first symptom of nasopharyngeal cancer is usually:

  • Lumps in your neck from the cancer spreading to your lymph nodes

Other symptoms are:

  • Congestion and sometimes bleeding from one side of your nose

  • A feeling of fullness or pain in one ear

  • Hearing loss in one ear

  • Swelling in your face

How can doctors tell if I have nasopharyngeal cancer?

If doctors suspect nasopharyngeal cancer, they'll look in your nasopharynx using a special flexible viewing tube. If they see something that might be a cancer, they'll do a biopsy (remove a sample of the tissue for testing).

If you have nasopharyngeal cancer, doctors will do tests to see if your cancer has spread to other parts of your body. Such tests may include:

How do doctors treat nasopharyngeal cancer?

Nasopharyngeal cancer is more easily treated when caught early.

Doctors treat nasopharyngeal cancer with:

If the cancer comes back after this, doctors may do surgery.

Radiation to your nasopharynx may cause:

  • Loss of taste

  • Dry mouth

  • Trouble swallowing and speaking

  • Dental problems, if your teeth were exposed to radiation

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