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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

A Look Inside the Nose and Throat

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 Infectious Mononucleosis (Mono) Infectious mononucleosis, often called mono, is a viral infection that is most common in teens and young adults. Mono is spread by close contact, such as kissing, with infected people Symptoms... read more ) 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?

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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