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.

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.

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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
August 09, 2017