Nasopharyngeal cancer is a malignant mass of cells in the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat behind the nose. Individuals of the Chinese or Asian origin, those who suffer from Epstein-Barr virus, or heavy drinkers are at a high risk for developing this form of the disease. Nasopharyngeal cancer is rare in the United States, with approximately 2,700 cases diagnosed in 2011. This disease usually affects people under the age of 55.
Nasopharyngeal Cancer Signs & Symptoms
The most common signs of nasopharyngeal cancer are problems with speaking, breathing, or hearing. Other symptoms can include: a lump in the nose or neck, nosebleeds, pain/ringing in the ear, and persistent headaches.
Nasopharyngeal Cancer Diagnosis
Nasopharyngeal cancer is diagnosed by one of the following means:
- Physical exam: A doctor will do a thorough examination of the throat, especially the pharynx and lymph nodes, in order to detect any obvious abnormalities. Depending on the exam results, and if symptoms persist, the doctor may recommend additional tests.
- Nasoscopy: In this procedure, the doctor will insert a long narrow tube with a light on the end in order to examine the nose more closely. The doctor may also remove a sample of tissue to use in a biopsy, when the sample is examined under a microscope to detect any abnormalities.
- Neurological exam: The doctor may order a thorough work-up of the patient to examine their brain and nerve function and spinal cord. This test will also check the patient’s balance, coordination, muscle function, and reflexes.
- Scans (MRI, CT or CAT, or positron emission tomography—PET): These scans take pictures of the body’s internal organs using magnets (MRI) or radioactive glucose (PET) to detect any abnormalities. During a CAT scan, the doctor may inject a dye into the patient’s vein so that their organs are more clearly visible on the x-ray machine.
Nasopharyngeal Cancer Treatment
The patient’s course of treatment depends on the size, location, and stage of the mass. Traditional treatment options like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery are most effective in the early stages of the illness. A patient may also benefit from participating in a clinical trial, in which new therapies are demonstrated on human volunteers.
Nasopharyngeal Cancer Outlook
Patients with stage IV nasopharyngeal cancer can expect a 5-year survival rate of 73%. Many patients that have been diagnosed with and successfully treated for this type of cancer have experienced a recurrence, so vigilant medical follow-up is recommended.