Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

By Medically reviewed by hellodoktor

msBahasa Malaysia


What is nasopharyngeal carcinoma?

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is cancer that occurs in the nasopharynx, which is located in the upper part of the throat behind your nose. This cancer is a rare type of head and neck cancer. Nasopharyngeal carcinoma occurs much more frequently in Southeast Asia.

It is difficult to detect nasopharyngeal carcinoma in the early stage. This is because the nasopharynx isn’t easy to examine. Besides, cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of body through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood.

There are four stages of nasopharyngeal cancer.

  • Stage 1 is the early stage of nasopharyngeal cancer.
  • Stage 2 is called intermediate-stage.
  • Stages 3 and 4 are the advanced or late-stage nasopharyngeal cancer.

How common is nasopharyngeal carcinoma?

This health condition is extremely common. It commonly affects more males than females. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of nasopharyngeal carcinoma?

The common symptoms of nasopharyngeal carcinoma are:

  • A lump in your nose or neck;
  • Blood in your saliva;
  • A sore throat;
  • Trouble breathing or speaking;
  • Nose bleeding;
  • Nasal congestion;
  • Hearing loss;
  • Frequent ear infections;
  • Headaches.

However, in its early stages, nasopharyngeal carcinoma may not cause any symptoms.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes nasopharyngeal carcinoma?

In nasopharyngeal carcinomas, this process begins in the squamous cells that link to the surface of the nasopharynx. Then genetic mutations cause normal cells to grow out of control, invade surrounding structures and eventually spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

The cause of nasopharyngeal cancer is not exactly found, but many scientists believe this cancer has been strongly linked to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Although EBV infection is likely the risk of this cancer, not everyone who has EBV will get nasopharyngeal cancer. In fact, it isn’t clear why some people with all the risk factors never develop cancer, while others who have no apparent risk factors do.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for nasopharyngeal carcinoma?

There are many risk factors for nasopharyngeal carcinoma, such as:

  • Male has a higher risk to get this disease.
  • This type of cancer affects more commonly people in China, Southeast Asia, and northern Africa.
  • It most commonly occurs in adults between the ages of 30 and 50.
  • Salt-cured foods. Eating a diet with rich of salt-cured fish and meats at an early age may increase the risk.
  • Epstein-Barr virus is also linked to several rare cancers, including nasopharyngeal carcinoma.
  • Having a family member with nasopharyngeal carcinoma increases your risk of the disease.
  • Drinking large amounts of alcohol or smoking.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is nasopharyngeal carcinoma diagnosed?

The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and family history;
  • Biopsy;
  • Imaging tests: computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), X-ray;
  • Other tests such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) test, hearing test.

How is nasopharyngeal carcinoma treated?

The treatment options will depend on:

  • The stage of cancer;
  • The type of nasopharyngeal cancer;
  • The size of the tumor;
  • The patient’s age and general health.

Three types of standard treatment are used:

  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays or protons, to kill cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be given in pill form, administered through a vein or both. Chemotherapy may be used to treat nasopharyngeal carcinoma at the same time or after or before radiation therapy.
  • Surgery is not often used as a treatment for nasopharyngeal carcinoma. It is used to remove cancerous lymph nodes in the neck.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage nasopharyngeal carcinoma?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with nasopharyngeal carcinoma:

  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables;
  • Avoid salt-cured fish and meats;
  • Do not smoke;
  • Do not drink a lot of alcohol.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Review Date: November 16, 2016 | Last Modified: September 13, 2019

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