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Nasopharyngeal Cancer: What Are Its Causes, Symptoms, and Effective Treatments?

B
Bajaj Finserv Health
December 15th, 2021
7 mins read

Key Takeaways

  • Nasopharyngeal cancer is a rare type of head and neck cancer
  • Nasopharyngeal carcinoma affects the upper part of throat
  • A nasopharyngeal mass is more common in men than in women

Nasopharyngeal cancer is also known as nasopharyngeal carcinoma. It is a rare type of head and neck cancer that starts in the nasopharynx. This refers to the upper part of the throat behind the nose and near the base of the skull [1]. The air you breathe flows through your nose, nasopharynx, throat, and then to your lungs. Nasopharyngeal cancer occurs when the cells at the upper part of your throat grow out of control.

Cases of this cancer are mostly found in Southeast China, some parts of North Africa, and the Middle East [2]. Nasopharyngeal cancer is more frequent in men than women and is the 23rd most common cancer around the world [3]. Although around 50% of the cases happen in people below 55 years, this cancer can occur at any age, even during childhood. Read on to know more.

Additional Read: 3 Important Things to Know about Head and Neck Cancer

What Are the Common Nasopharyngeal Cancer Causes?

Although the exact cause of the cancer is not known, it is linked to several factors including:

  • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) [4]

Contracting this virus causes glandular fever and mononucleosis. Even though the virus is associated with nasopharyngeal cancer, not all people diagnosed with EBV develop it. Although researchers are still finding how the virus causes cancer, it may be linked to genetic material from the virus that affects the cells of the nasopharynx.

nasopharyngeal cancer

  • Diet rich in salt-cured fish and meat

Having such foods increases your risk of developing this cancer.

  • Tobacco and alcohol

Although the link between tobacco and alcohol with this cancer is not clear, heavy smoking and consumption of alcohol can increase your risk.

  • Age, race, and gender

Most nasopharyngeal cancer cases are diagnosed in people between the ages of 30 and 50. However, it can occur at any age. Also, people living in Southeast Asia, South China, and North Africa are at a higher risk than others. As far as gender is concerned, it is found that men are two to three times more likely than women to develop this cancer.

  • Occupation

Certain types of jobs can put you at risk of this cancer. People who are constantly exposed to hardwood dust or formaldehyde may be at an increased risk of developing cancer.

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)

People affected with HPV sometimes have an increased risk of developing nasopharyngeal cancer [5].

  • Family history

Having a family member with a history of this type of cancer or having certain genes related to cancer development can put you at a higher risk.

nasopharyngeal cancer

What Symptoms Indicate the Possibility of Nasopharyngeal Cancer?

Recognizing the symptoms of this disease is difficult as they are similar to those of other less severe diseases. In most cases, people don’t experience any symptoms until the cancer reaches a serious stage. Here are some common symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer.

  • Lump in neck

  • Stuffy or blocked nose

  • Sore throat

  • Headaches

  • Hoarse voice

  • Loss of hearing

  • Bleeding from the nose

  • Blurred or double vision

  • Ear infections

  • Rapid weight loss

  • Facial pain or numbness

  • Ringing in the ears

  • Difficulty in breathing, speaking as well as swallowing

  • A feeling of fullness in the ears

How Do Doctors Diagnose Nasopharyngeal Cancer?

Doctors may ask you several questions regarding your symptoms, medical history, and family history. They may also do a physical test for the diagnosis. You may be further referred to an otolaryngologist. The doctor may also feel your neck for any lumps. A nasopharyngoscopy may also be performed where flexible tube with light and camera is inserted through your mouth or nose to get a better view of the nasopharynx. With it, doctors can find any abnormal growths or bleeding. If your result is abnormal, you may be asked to get a biopsy.

Imaging tests such as chest X-ray, CT scan, MRI, and ultrasound can also help detect nasopharyngeal cancer. Your doctor may also order CBC and EBV testing for proper diagnosis. If you are diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer, you will be required to undergo other tests to check its spread. This process is called nasopharyngeal carcinoma staging. The cancer is staged from stage 0 to stage IV where stage 0 is the earliest stage and Stage IV is the most advanced stage.

nasopharyngeal cancer

What Is the Treatment for Nasopharyngeal Cancer?

A combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy is often used to treat nasopharyngeal cancer. Doctors generally don’t suggest surgery as it becomes difficult for surgeons to access the affected area. Other treatments include:

  • biologic drugs

  • palliative therapy

  • targeted drug therapy

Immunotherapy is also used to strengthen your immune system in order to detect and fight cancer cells. However, it still remains experimental.

Additional Read: Want to Know About Different Types of Cancer? Here is a Handy Guide

Although many cases of nasopharyngeal cancer cannot be prevented, it is better to avoid smoking, cut down on alcohol, and quit having salt-cured fish and meats to lower the risk. Celebrate Nasopharyngeal Cancer Awareness Month in April every year to spread awareness about nasopharyngeal mass and other types of cancer. Another way to stay healthy and avoid diseases is to take preventive steps. Consult with the top doctors and specialists on Bajaj Finserv Health. This way, you can get the best advice on nasopharyngeal carcinoma and other conditions.

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