Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is a cancer that occurs in the nasopharynx, which is located behind the nose and above the back of the throat.

Nasopharyngeal cancer occurs more frequently in Asia and North Africa than in other parts of the world. In its early stages, it may not cause any symptoms. However, if persistent changes such as unusual nasal congestion occur, you should see your doctor.

Nasopharyngeal Cancer Causes 

The cancer begins in the squamous cells that line the surface of the nasopharynx. The exact cause of this is not clear.

Nasopharyngeal Cancer Risk Factors 

Gender: men have about double the risk of developing cancer of the nasopharynx than women
Salt-cured foods: chemicals released in steam when cooking salt-cured foods such as fish, preserved vegetables and Chinese herbs may enter the nasal cavity, increasing the risk of nasopharyngeal carcinoma
Preserved meats: preserved meats contain high levels of nitrates, which may increase the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer
Epstein-Barr virus: this common virus that usually produces mild signs and symptoms, such as those of a cold, is also linked to several rare cancers, including nasopharyngeal carcinoma
Family history: having a family member with nasopharyngeal carcinoma increases your risk of the disease, though researchers are unsure if this association is due to genetic or environmental factors

Nasopharyngeal Cancer Symptoms 

Symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer include:
A lump in the neck caused by a swollen lymph node; this is found in 75 percent of newly diagnosed nasopharyngeal cancer 
Bloody discharge from the nose
Nasal congestion on one side of the nose
Hearing loss in one ear
Frequent ear infections
Double vision
Face and neck pain

Nasopharyngeal Cancer Complications 

Orchitis — men may experience pain or lumps in their testicles and swelling in the scrotum; however, this rarely causes infertility problems 
Meningoencephalitis (infection of the central nervous system) — this does not cause permanent damage 
Pancreatitis — this causes abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting 
Hearing impairment — hearing loss, which can be permanent, in one or both ears is a very rare complication
Nasopharyngeal carcinoma frequently spreads (metastasises) beyond the nasopharynx to lymph nodes in the neck, to the bones and bone marrow, lungs and liver.

The disease can also cause paraneoplastic syndromes, which can cause high levels of certain white blood cells and neurological or joint problems.

Related: Hearing Loss  

Nasopharyngeal Cancer Diagnosis 

If nasopharyngeal carcinoma is suspected, your specialist will use a special instrument with a camera, called an endoscope, to see inside the nasopharynx for abnormalities and to take a small tissue sample (biopsy) to be tested for cancer.

Nasopharyngeal Cancer Treatment 

Treatment for nasopharyngeal carcinoma usually begins with radiation therapy or a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. Surgery is not often used as a treatment.


Radiation therapy destroys quickly-growing cells, including cancer cells, in the area where the beams are focused.


Chemotherapy in the form of medications may be used to treat nasopharyngeal carcinoma before, during or after radiation therapy.

Nasopharyngeal Cancer Prevention 

There is no sure way to prevent nasopharyngeal carcinoma. However, one can take steps to reduce the risk of the disease by avoiding or eating less of salt-cured foods and preserved meats.


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