Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

What is Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma?

Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma is a type of malignant cancer that originates in a place at the back of the throat and behind your nose called the nasopharynx.  It is hard to detect it early because the symptoms are not obvious and they can mimic other conditions that are more common.

Risk factors for this tumor include ethnicity (having Asian ancestry increases the risk,) alcohol abuse and being exposed to Epstein-Barr virus.

What are the Symptoms of Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma?

Symptoms may not be immediately evident or there may not even be any symptoms in the earliest stages of nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

Once they are noticeable though, they can be as simple as nasal congestion, frequent ear infections, or headaches.  More serious symptoms include blood in the saliva, a bloody nose discharge, hearing loss, or a lump in your neck and swollen lymph nodes.

A definitive diagnosis can only be confirmed through MRI, PET or CAT scan and a biopsy to determine type and stage of the cancer.

An EBV (Epstein-Barr Virus) test indicates the presence of antibodies and DNA markers that reveal a past viral infection.

Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma Causes

The most common cause of nasopharyngeal carcinoma is a virus that alters the genetic cells. Not enough is known about the exact cause of this cancer, but several factors play a part in the risks of this condition consisting of diet, lifestyle and genetics.

The direct link to this condition is a change in the DNA cells of the nasopharynx, leading the cells to divide abnormally and develop into cancer. It is a rare condition and can occur in multiple siblings, skipping a generation.

This specific type of cancer is linked to the Epstein Barr virus (EBV). Nasopharyngeal carcinoma cells contain traces of the EBV virus. EBV can remain dormant in the body for a long time and reappear, increasing the risk of cancer.

Diets and lifestyles appear to contribute to this condition. Chemical reactions to salt cured fish are known to raise the risks of this cancer. Although it is an adolescent disease, the condition can occur at any age. Many individuals who carry the gene go through life without encountering any cancer.

How is Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma Treated?

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma treatment can include surgery but it usually starts with radiation therapy and chemotherapy according to type and stage of the tumor.

With radiation therapy, high-powered energy beams help kill the cancer cells.  The procedure is called external beam radiation.  If the tumors are small, this may be all that is necessary but it is often combined with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy involves the use of a drug treatment that kills the cancer cells.  It can be administered through a vein or a pill form.    Sometimes it is used alongside radiation and other times it follows radiation treatments. It can also precede radiation.

Surgery is not as common for nasopharyngeal carcinoma but it may be used to remove the lymph nodes in the neck.  It can also be sued to remove tumors. It is done via an incision in the roof of the mouth.

Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma Prevention

Preventions include diets rich in fruits and vegetables, and the avoidance of salted fish or meats to lessen the risk of nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Maintaining a healthful diet also supports the immune system so it can respond to the EBV virus, preventing the development of cancer.

This is a hereditary disease, if you have been diagnosed or have several occurrences in your family; you need to learn more about this condition. Talk with your doctor about being tested for the Epstein Barr virus. A blood test will help detect the risk. The best prevention is early detection.

In the event nasopharyngeal carcinoma is identified, treatments of chemotherapy and radiation have cured existing conditions and prevented future episodes.