Nasopharyngeal cancer: symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Cancer in the nasopharynx is rare. The disease mainly affects people of Chinese, Indonesian and North African descent. In Western Europe, nasopharyngeal cancer is rarely seen. If the cancer is detected quickly, the disease can often be treated effectively. Nasopharyngeal cancer is also known as nasopharyngeal cancer.


  • Recurring nosebleeds
  • Repeatedly stuffy nose
  • Frequently running nose
  • Recurrent inflammation of the sinuses
  • Pain and swelling in face
  • Sense of smell deteriorates
  • Swollen lymph nodes in neck

If nasopharyngeal cancer is not detected, the cancer cells can spread to the liver, lungs and brain, among others. This is called metastases. They form new tumors. They can destroy organs, impairing their functioning. Nerves can also be affected, causing facial paralysis.


Nasopharyngeal cancer usually affects the area around the tonsils. Risk factors for developing this cancer include smoking, eating salted fish and breathing in nickel dust or hardwood sawdust. Hereditary factors may also be important. Additional risks include the use of snuff, excessive alcohol consumption and infection with the Epstein-Barr virus. This is the same virus that causes mononucleosis.


If nasopharyngeal cancer is suspected, a tube can be used to look into the nose and throat. This is done by means of a gastroscopy. If a tumor is found, a piece of tissue can be taken from it for examination under the microscope. CT and MRI scans can indicate how far the nasopharyngeal cancer has developed. Biopsies may also be taken from surrounding lymph nodes to see whether the cancer has spread.


Nasopharyngeal cancer can be treated effectively if detected early. The tumor can be surgically removed and possibly irradiated. Chemotherapy can also be used to fight the cancer. If the tumor is discovered in time, the chance of survival during the first five years is sixty to eighty percent.


Radiation therapy is aimed at killing cancer cells and sparing healthy cells as much as possible. The radiation destroys as much of the cancer cells’ tissue as possible, making them no longer able to reproduce. Radiation is mainly chosen if the tumor in the nasopharynx is small.


Chemotherapy is chosen for medium-sized tumors. The patient is administered cytostatics. Cytostatics try to stop cell division, including the cells of healthy tissue. Cancer cells are particularly hard hit. Normal cells heal again after chemotherapy, unlike cancer cells. Chemotherapy is given with breaks in between to allow the body to regain its strength.

Neck dissection

Sometimes it is necessary to also remove the lymph nodes in the neck. This happens with large tumors in the nasopharynx. During a neck dissection, a surgeon removes a lymph node and surrounding tissue from the neck. Blood vessels, nerves and the neck gland may also be removed.

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