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Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

Clinical Description 

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is a cancer that occurs in the nasopharynx, the upper part of the pharynx (throat) behind the nose. Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is rare in the United States, but occurs more frequently in Asia and northern Africa. It is unusually common in southern China and in immigrants from that region.

Symptoms of Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma may not cause any symptoms in its early stage. You may notice:
  • A lump in the neck 
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nosebleeds
  • Trouble breathing or speaking
  • Hearing loss 
  • Pain in the ear
  • Frequent ear infections
  • Headaches
Risk Factors of Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma 
  • Race: people from Asia or northern Africa
  • Salt-cured foods
  • Exposure to Epstein-Barr virus
  • Smoking cigarettes
How Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma is Diagnosed

Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms. An endoscope (a thin tube with a light and a camera) will be used to look inside the nose for abnormalities. Your doctor may take tissue samples (biopsy) to be checked under a microscope for cancer.

If the diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor may order imaging tests including computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or positron emission tomography (PET), to determine the extent (stage) of the cancer.

Treatment Options for Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma at Tufts Medical Center
Treatment for nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) depends on whether the disease is localized to the nasopharynx (early stage disease) or spread outside the nasopharynx to lymph nodes or sites of metastasis such as bones or lungs (advanced disease) 
  • Radiation therapy: using high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. It may be given either inside the body (internal radiation therapy), or outside the body (external radiation therapy), which is more commonly used in nasopharyngeal cancer. This is generally the treatment used for early stage NPC.
  • Chemotherapy: using one or a combination of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given at the same time as radiation therapy (concomitant chemoradiation), after radiation therapy, or before radiation therapy. This is the usual approach for advanced disease.
  • Surgery: Surgery may be used to remove cancerous lymph nodes or a tumor


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