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.
(See also Overview of Mouth, Nose, and Throat Cancers Overview of Mouth, Nose, and Throat Cancers Cancers of the mouth, nose, and throat develop in almost 65,000 people in the United States each year. These cancers are more common among men because male smokers continue to outnumber female... read more .)
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 , 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
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 , and nosebleeds. Part of the face or an eye may become paralyzed.
Diagnosis of Nasopharyngeal Cancer
To diagnose nasopharyngeal cancer, a doctor first examines the nasopharynx with a special mirror or flexible viewing tube (endoscope). If a tumor is found, a doctor does a biopsy of the tumor, in which a sample of tissue is removed and examined under a microscope. Computed tomography Computed Tomography (CT) In computed tomography (CT), which used to be called computed axial tomography (CAT), an x-ray source and x-ray detector rotate around a person. In modern scanners, the x-ray detector usually... read more (CT) of the base of the skull and magnetic resonance imaging Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) In magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a strong magnetic field and very high frequency radio waves are used to produce highly detailed images. MRI does not use x-rays and is usually very safe... read more (MRI) of the head, nasopharynx, and base of the skull are done to evaluate the extent of the cancer. A positron emission tomography Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Positron emission tomography (PET) is a type of radionuclide scanning. A radionuclide is a radioactive form of an element, which means it is an unstable atom that becomes more stable by releasing... read more (PET) scan also commonly is done to assess the extent of the cancer and the lymph nodes in the neck.
Prognosis of 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
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.
The following English-language resource may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of this resource.
American Cancer Society: Nasopharyngeal cancer