Nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) is a rare type of carcinoma in which a tumor forms in the epithelium, or thin layer of surface tissue, lining the nasopharyngeal passage. The nasopharynx is the space that connects the back of your nose to the back of your throat; in fact, this type of cancer is often associated with throat cancer. Nasopharyngeal cancer may often go undetected until it spreads to regional lymph nodes, but tumors that form in this region can affect your hearing or result in symptoms of nasal obstruction:
- Nasal congestion
- Nasal discharge
- Nose bleeds
- Ear infection
- Swelling of the neck
Causes of nasopharyngeal cancer is often the result of being infected with the Epstein Barr virus, which can transform normal epithelial cells into cancerous cells. Risk factors can include genetics (especially having a first-degree relative with the disease), being male, and belonging to a specific ethnic group (black teenagers have shown increased incidence, along with children of Asian, Middle Eastern, and Northern African decent). Nasopharyngeal cancer has further been associated with patients who eat a lot of preserved food or salted fish. The age distribution of patients is bimodal: nasopharyngeal cancer is typically observed in late childhood and in adults aged 50-60 years.
Nasopharyngeal cancer frequently metastasizes beyond the nasopharynx to nearby lymph nodes, but is typically contained to the head and neck region. Treatment depends on the type, size, and, most importantly, the stage of the tumor, as well as the patient’s general health.
Patients with nasopharyngeal cancer will typically receive radiation therapy as a first-line treatment, while chemotherapy is usually reserved for more advanced cases. In pediatric cases, the application of neoadjuvant chemotherapy followed by radiation therapy has shown to improve control over the local progression of cancer better than radiation alone. In fact, new studies show that combination therapy generally increases long-term survival rates of all patients with nasopharyngeal cancer.