Nasopharyngeal cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat behind the nose and near the base of the skull.

This area connects the nose to your mouth, allowing you to breathe and swallow. Its location makes it an uncommon type of cancer. When cancer originates in this area, it’s termed as nasopharyngeal cancer.

The exact cause is not known, but some factors might increase the risk, for example, the Epstein-Barr virus and Asian ancestry, especially Chinese ancestry. The cancer often appears as a non-cancerous lump or inflammation in the throat or neck, which does not usually cause pain.

Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Signs and symptoms may include a lump in the neck, nosebleeds, nasal congestion, recurrent or persistent sinus infections, hearing loss, frequent ear infections, sore throat, and headaches.

There are different types of nasopharyngeal cancer, such as nasopharyngeal carcinoma, lymphoepithelioma, and squamous cell carcinoma, all referencing the type of cells that the cancer starts in.

Treatment options generally include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of the two. Surgery might be an option in certain cases. The prognosis varies widely depending on the stage and type of cancer. Regular check-ups are needed after treatment to assess the effectiveness and to check for a recurrence.

Causes of Nasopharyngeal cancer

Nasopharyngeal cancer, which occurs in the nasopharynx — the area of your throat behind your nose, can be caused by a number of factors:

1. Epstein Barr Virus (EBV): This common human virus can, in rare circumstances, make cells turn into cancerous cells. Many people are infected with EBV and it’s often harmless, but in some cases it can lead to nasopharyngeal cancer.

2. Genetic Factors: Some gene mutations or other types of genetic material may increase the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer. If someone in your family suffered from this type of cancer, your own risk is often higher.

3. Dietary and Environmental Factors: Certain diets high in preserved or salted foods and certain types of chemicals or particles in the air or in certain work environments have been linked to nasopharyngeal cancer.

4. Certain Races and Ethnic Groups: People of southern Chinese, specifically Cantonese, descent, and those from Arctic regions, such as Inuits, are known to have a higher risk of nasopharyngeal cancer.

5. Certain Medical Conditions: Conditions that weaken the immune system, like HIV, increase the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer.

It’s important to note that while the exact cause may not be known and having these risk factors doesn’t mean that someone will definitely develop nasopharyngeal cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop the disease while some people with none of the risk factors do.

Risk Factors of Nasopharyngeal cancer

Nasopharyngeal cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the nasopharynx, the upper area of the throat behind the nose and near the base of skull. There are several risk factors associated with it:

1. Ethnicity and Geography: Nasopharyngeal cancer is much more common in certain areas of East Asia, like southern parts of China. It’s also more prevalent among people of Inuit and North African descent.

2. Gender and Age: Men are more likely to get nasopharyngeal cancer than women, and it most often occurs in adults between the ages of 30 and 50.

3. Epstein-Barr Virus Exposure: Infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), the virus that commonly causes mononucleosis, increases the risk of developing nasopharyngeal cancer.

4. Diet: A diet high in salt-cured fish and meats can increase the risk of this type of cancer.

5. Family History: People with a family history of nasopharyngeal cancer are at a higher risk, suggesting a possible genetic component.

6. Smoking and Alcohol Consumption: Heavy drinking and smoking are also considered to increase the risk.

7. Exposure to certain chemicals or substances: Being exposed to wood dust or certain chemicals used in specific industries, including formaldehyde, can increase the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer.

8. Occupational risk: Jobs that involve exposure to dust and smoke, like construction and carpentry, could potentially increase the risk.

Remember that having one or more risk factors does not necessarily mean one will develop the cancer. It only increases the chances. Regular check-ups and screenings can help in early diagnosis and treatment.

Signs and Symptoms of Nasopharyngeal cancer

Nasopharyngeal cancer is a rare type of cancer that affects the area where the nose and throat connect. Here are several signs and symptoms that may be associated with nasopharyngeal cancer:

1. A lump or mass in the neck due to swollen lymph nodes.

2. Nosebleeds or nasal discharge, often one-sided.

3. A persistent sore throat or a feeling of something stuck in the throat.

4. Frequent ear infections or hearing loss, usually on one side. This is due to the tumor blocking the Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the back of the nose.

5. Difficulty hearing or ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus.

6. Difficulty or pain while speaking, swallowing or breathing.

7. Facial pain or numbness, or difficulty opening the mouth. This may be the result of the tumor affecting the nerves.

8. Frequent headaches or pain in the sinus areas unrelated to a sinus infection.

9. Double vision or other vision problems. This often occurs when the tumor invades the base of the skull and infringes on the nerves that control eye movement.

10. Unexplained weight loss.

In the early stages, nasopharyngeal cancer might have few or no symptoms. However, if you’re experiencing persistent and unusual symptoms especially related to the nose, throat and ears, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional promptly for proper evaluation and treatment.

Diagnosis Nasopharyngeal cancer

Nasopharyngeal cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the nasopharynx, which is the upper part of your throat behind the nose and near the base of the skull.

This location makes it a complex cancer to detect and diagnose as symptoms can often mimic those of common medical conditions like infections or allergies.

Symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer may include a lump in neck, changes or difficulty in hearing, frequent ear infections, sore throat, nosebleeds, blurry or double vision, or difficulties breathing or speaking.

Risk factors for developing nasopharyngeal cancer include certain infections like the Epstein-Barr virus, genetic factors, consuming certain types of foods and drinks like salt-cured fish and meats, and being of certain ethnicities, particularly Chinese and other East Asian ethnicities.

Diagnosis of this cancer often involves a physical examination, imaging tests and a biopsy where a sample of tissue is removed for examination under a microscope.

Once diagnosed, treatment options include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of both. The stage of the cancer and the individual’s overall health will determine the most appropriate treatment plan. Early detection and diagnosis can greatly improve the prognosis and survival rates for nasopharyngeal cancer.

Treatment of Nasopharyngeal cancer

Nasopharyngeal cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the nasopharynx, which is the area connecting the base of your nose to the back of your throat. Here are the general approaches used for its treatment:

1. Radiation Therapy: This is often the primary treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer, especially in early stages. High-energy radiation beams, like those made from X-rays or protons, are used to kill malignant cells. It can be external (from a machine outside your body) or internal (brachytherapy, radioactive material placed inside your body).

2. Chemotherapy: This involves using drugs to kill cancer cells, and can be used alongside radiation therapy (chemoradiation). There are two general types: neoadjuvant chemotherapy (increases the efficacy of radiation therapy by shrinking tumors before radiation) or concurrent chemotherapy (during radiation therapy to increase the chance of curing cancer).

3. Immunotherapy: This utilizes your own body’s immune system to fight cancer. Drugs are used to stimulate the immune system to recognize and effectively attack cancer cells. An example is Pembrolizumab (Keytruda), which is sometimes used when other treatments haven’t worked.

4. Surgery: This is less common due to the nasopharynx’s hard-to-reach location. However, it may be used in certain situations, such as when other treatments haven’t worked or to palliate symptoms.

The specific choice of treatment depends on a variety of factors, such as the stage of the cancer, overall health condition, and the patient’s preferences. This process should always be guided by a healthcare provider or team of cancer specialists.

Medications commonly used for Nasopharyngeal cancer

Nasopharyngeal cancer is typically treated with a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and sometimes surgery. Here are a few common medications used in the treatment:

1. Chemotherapy drugs: Several medications are used to kill cancer cells or prevent them from growing. The specific choice may depend on the stage and aggressiveness of the cancer. Common chemotherapy drugs for nasopharyngeal cancer include cisplatin, carboplatin, 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), docetaxel, and gemcitabine.

2. Immunotherapy drugs: These are drugs used to stimulate the immune system to attack and kill cancer cells. Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) is an example of an immunotherapy drug that’s been approved for use in certain cases of nasopharyngeal cancer.

3. Targeted therapy drugs: These medications more specifically target cancer cells and have less impact on healthy cells compared to traditional chemotherapy, potentially resulting in fewer side effects. Cetuximab (Erbitux), a monoclonal antibody, is one example of a targeted therapy used in nasopharyngeal cancer.

4. Other drugs: To manage side effects of chemotherapy and other treatments, other drugs often accompany treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer, such as anti-nausea medications and pain relievers.

Please note, the specific treatment protocol depends on a variety of factors, including the individual’s overall health, the stage of the disease, potential side effects, and the specific characteristics of the cancer. Treatment plans should always be discussed with a healthcare provider or oncologist.

Prevention of Nasopharyngeal cancer

Prevention of nasopharyngeal cancer can be somewhat difficult because the exact causes of the disease are not definitively known. However, there are few preventive measures that can be undertaken to prevent nasopharyngeal cancer:

1. Avoid Exposure to EBV: Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a common virus that has been strongly associated with nasopharyngeal cancer. Although most people will get an EBV infection at some point in their life, avoid sharing food, drinks, or personal items, like toothbrushes with someone who has an active EBV infection.

2. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle: Including plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet can potentially reduce your risk of developing nasopharyngeal cancer. Avoid processed foods and try to have a balanced and rich diet.

3. Limit Alcohol and Avoid Tobacco: Alcohol and tobacco increase the risk of several types of cancers, including nasopharyngeal cancer. Avoiding or limiting intake of alcohol and tobacco can thus lower the risk.

4. Protection Against Occupational Hazards: Try to reduce exposure to wood dust and chemicals associated with certain jobs in the manufacturing industry, as they can increase the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer.

5. Regular Medical Check-ups: Regular medical check-ups are crucial for early detection. If you have a family history of nasopharyngeal cancer, then regularly consult with your doctor.

Please remember that while these steps can reduce risk, they cannot eliminate it completely. It’s important to consult with a healthcare provider for personalized advice.

FAQ’s about Nasopharyngeal cancer

1. What is Nasopharyngeal Cancer?
Nasopharyngeal cancer is a rare form of cancer that develops in the nasopharynx, the area where the back part of your nose opens into your upper throat.

2. What are the symptoms of Nasopharyngeal Cancer?
Common symptoms include a lump in the neck, headaches, nosebleeds, hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), a blocked nose, and difficulty hearing or speaking.

3. What causes Nasopharyngeal Cancer?
The exact cause is unknown, but certain factors like exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a type of Herpes virus, and consumption of certain foods (like salt-cured fish and meats) have been linked to a higher risk of developing this type of cancer.

4. How is Nasopharyngeal Cancer diagnosed?
This cancer is usually detected through various diagnostic methods. A doctor might use a special mirror to examine the nasopharynx, or insert a thin tube with a camera on one end (nasendoscope) to get a closer look. Biopsies or imaging tests (like an MRI or PET scan) may also be used.

5. How is Nasopharyngeal Cancer treated?
Treatments can include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of both. Surgery is less common due to the nasopharynx’s hard-to-reach location.

6. What is the survival rate for Nasopharyngeal Cancer?
The survival rate varies depending on the stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis and the individual’s overall health. Early detection greatly increases the chance of successful treatment.

7. Can Nasopharyngeal Cancer be prevented?
While there is no guaranteed method of prevention, reducing risk factors like certain types of food and avoiding exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus may help.

8. Is there any support available for individuals diagnosed with Nasopharyngeal Cancer?
Yes, many organizations and support groups are available that offer everything from information and resources to emotional support for those dealing with nasopharyngeal cancer.

9. Can Nasopharyngeal Cancer recur after treatment?
Yes, like other types of cancer, there is a risk of recurrence even after successful treatment. Regular follow-up appointments will be necessary to monitor for any signs of recurrence.

10. Can Nasopharyngeal Cancer spread to other parts of the body?
Yes, Nasopharyngeal cancer can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. The most common sites of spread are the lymph nodes in the neck, lungs, bones and liver.

Remember, it is always essential to contact a healthcare professional if you are experiencing any symptoms or have any concerns.

Useful links

Nasopharyngeal cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that starts in the upper part of the throat (pharynx) behind the nose, called the nasopharynx. It can be difficult to detect because the nasopharynx isn’t easily visible to healthcare providers. Symptoms sometimes may include a lump in the neck, hearing loss, frequent ear infections, sore throat, and nosebleeds.

For detailed information about this type of cancer, findings from clinical studies, and treatment guidelines, you may refer to the following journal articles and resources:


Please note that most of these articles and journals may contain complex medical terminology. Should you need assistance understanding specific concepts, do not hesitate to ask. Always consult with your healthcare provider before making health-related decisions.

Complications of Nasopharyngeal cancer

Nasopharyngeal cancer is a rare type of head and neck cancer that starts in the upper part of your throat, just behind your nose. This type of cancer can have several complications, some of which can have a significant impact on your health and quality of life. These complications include:

1. Metastasis: This is a condition where cancer cells spread from the primary site (the nasopharynx in this case) to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, bones, or the liver.

2. Hearing loss: Nasopharyngeal cancer can cause hearing loss if the tumor grows into the ear or if the radiation treatment for the cancer damages the structures of the ear.

3. Trouble talking or difficulty swallowing: The tumor may make it difficult for the person to speak clearly or swallow. Radiation therapy can also cause these problems.

4. Change in appearance: Nasopharyngeal cancer and its treatment can cause changes in appearance. For instance, radiation therapy can cause skin problems that can result in changes in your physical appearance.

5. Nasal obstruction and nosebleeds: A growing tumor can block the nasal passages, leading to difficulties in breathing. It can also cause nosebleeds.

Nasopharyngeal Cancer

6. Increased risk of stroke: Head and neck cancers, including nasopharyngeal cancer, have been linked to a higher risk of stroke, possibly due to shared risk factors like smoking or treatment effects.

7. Side effects of treatment: Both radiation and chemotherapy come with side effects like fatigue, nausea, hair loss, etc. Radiation can sometimes lead to brain tissue inflammation if it is near the treatment area.

8. Emotional stress and mental health challenges: The diagnosis and treatment of any cancer can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

It’s important to note that not everyone with nasopharyngeal cancer will experience all of these complications. The exact complications a person experiences will depend on the stage of the cancer, the treatment approach, and their overall health. Regular follow-up care after treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer is important to check for health problems that may occur months or years after treatment.

Home remedies of Nasopharyngeal cancer

While it’s vital to emphasize that home remedies are not a substitute for professional medical treatment, especially for a serious condition like nasopharyngeal cancer, they can play a supportive role in overall well-being and in managing symptoms alongside your doctor’s recommended treatment plan. Here are some suggestions:

1. Healthy Diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains is crucial. These foods provide essential vitamins and antioxidants which can aid healing and support your immune system.

2. Hydration: Drinking plenty of fluid aids in preventing dry mouth and throat, which can occur as a side effect of nasopharyngeal cancer or its treatment. Warm tea with honey, sugar-free drinks and even snacks like watermelon can help.

3. Exercise: Regular physical activity, if approved by your doctor, can help manage symptoms like fatigue and maintain overall health. Walking or light yoga can be beneficial.

4. Mind-Body Techniques: Techniques such as meditation and mindfulness can aid in managing stress and anxiety associated with a cancer diagnosis. Yoga and acupuncture may also provide relief for some symptoms.

5. Herbal Remedies: Certain herbs are believed to help in easing the side effects of cancer treatment. However, you must discuss with your doctor before starting any herbal remedy, as some may interfere with chemotherapy or other medicines.

6. Regular Rest: Adequate sleep helps the body heal and fight off infections. Regular naps and maintaining a consistent bedtime will help in improving overall health.

Again, it’s crucial to collaborate with your healthcare team regarding any alternative therapies or lifestyle changes you plan to implement. They should be aware and approve any supplements or natural treatments you may be considering.+

Categorized in:


Last Update: January 10, 2024