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AmMed Cancer Center > Treatment Information by Cancer Type > Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

Cancer Information :

Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

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

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is difficult to detect early, probably because the nasopharnyx isn't easy to examine and symptoms of nasopharyngeal carcinoma mimic those of many other conditions. Your main treatment options for nasopharyngeal carcinoma are radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of the two. You can work with your doctor to determine the exact approach depending on your particular situation.

Risk factors

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is common in Southern China. It often affects people aged 30 and older, but occasionally can be seen in the young, including children. It is twice as common in women.

Several risk factors have been found with nasopharyngeal cancer:

Diet: In areas where nasopharyngeal carcinomas are common, people typically eat diets very high in salted fish and preserved meat from a young age.

Epstein-Barr virus infection: Epstein-Barr virus is common throughout the world. Almost all nasopharyngeal cancer cells contain genetic material of this virus. How this virus can cause nasopharyngeal carcinoma in certain patients but not in others is still a mystery.

Genetic factors: nasopharyngeal carcinoma can run in families. Studies have found that people with certain inherited tissue types are at increased risk of developing nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is relatively rare in most parts of the world except with immigrants from Southern China. Your chance of having the disease is not increased by moving into this part of the world.

Symptoms

In its early stages, nasopharyngeal carcinoma may not cause any symptoms. Possible noticeable symptoms of nasopharyngeal carcinoma include:

  • A lump in your neck caused by a swollen lymph node
  • Bloody discharge from your nose
  • Nasal congestion on one side of your nose
  • Hearing loss in one ear
  • Frequent ear infections
  • Headaches
  • Double vision
  • Face and neck pain

Surgery
Surgery is not often used as a treatment for nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Surgery to remove cancerous lymph nodes in the neck is the most common surgery for nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Surgery to remove a tumor from the nasopharynx requires surgeons to make an incision in the roof of your mouth in order to access the area to remove the cancerous tissue.

Radiation
Radiation therapy is the main form of treatment for nasopharyngeal carcinoma because, irrespective of the cell type, most cases are responsive to radiation. External radiation beams emitted from a machine are directed towards the cancer cells and regional lymph nodes. The doses of radiation would depend on the extent of disease. Modern irradiation techniques can minimize trauma to normal tissues. For some patients, especially recurrent cases, internal radiation may help.

Radiation therapy carries a risk of side effects, including temporary skin changes, hearing loss, dry mouth and difficulty swallowing. Your nasopharynx is situated among some delicate organs, such as your brain, spinal cord, thyroid gland, eyes and ears. Your radiation therapy team works to protect these organs, but that can't always be done.

Unlike radiation therapy, which is focused on one part of your body, chemotherapy medications travel throughout your body. Chemotherapy works by attacking quickly growing cells, including cancer cells. Some healthy cells are also killed by chemotherapy, which can cause side effects, including fatigue, hair loss, and nausea and vomiting. Chemotherapy may be used to treat nasopharyngeal carcinoma in three ways:

Chemotherapy
Unlike radiation therapy, which is focused on one part of your body, chemotherapy medications travel throughout your body. Chemotherapy works by attacking quickly growing cells, including cancer cells. Some healthy cells are also killed by chemotherapy, which can cause side effects, including fatigue, hair loss, and nausea and vomiting. Chemotherapy may be used to treat nasopharyngeal carcinoma in three ways:

What chemotherapy drugs you receive and how often will be determined by your doctor. The side effects you're likely to experience will depend on which drugs you receive.