Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Nasopharyngeal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the nasopharynx.

The nasopharynx is the upper part of the pharynx (throat) behind the nose. The pharynx is a hollow tube about 5 inches long that starts behind the nose and ends at the top of the trachea (windpipe) and esophagus (the tube that goes from the throat to the stomach). Air and food pass through the pharynx on the way to the trachea or the esophagus. The nostrils lead into the nasopharynx. An opening on each side of the nasopharynx leads into an ear. Nasopharyngeal cancer most commonly starts in the squamous cells that line the oropharynx (the part of the throat behind the mouth).

Ethnic background and exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus can affect the risk of developing nasopharyngeal cancer.

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Risk factors may include the following:

  • Chinese or Asian ancestry.
  • Exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus: The Epstein-Barr virus has been associated with certain cancers, including nasopharyngeal cancer and some lymphomas.

Possible signs of nasopharyngeal cancer include trouble breathing, speaking, or hearing.

These and other symptoms may be caused by nasopharyngeal cancer. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:

  • A lump in the nose or neck.
  • A sore throat.
  • Trouble breathing or speaking.
  • Nosebleeds.
  • Trouble hearing.
  • Pain or ringing in the ear.
  • Headaches.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/2/2014

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Read how the Epstein-Barr virus may be a cause of nasopharyngeal cancer.

The Broad Spectrum of EBV Disease

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

The Epstein-Barr virus(EBV), a member of the herpesvirusfamily, is found throughout the world. Studies show that up to 95% of all adults have antibodies against this common virus, meaning that they were infected at some point in their lives. Even though most infections with EBV go unnoticed or produce only very mild symptoms, in some cases, it can be associated with the development of serious conditions, including several types of cancer. Even mild or non-life-threatening infection with EBV can, occasionally, be associated with the development of serious complications from the infection. Although the virus typically targets lymphocytes, a particular blood cell involved in the immune response, almost all organs systems can ultimately be affected by EBV infection.

EBV is transmitted by close person-to-person contact. Primary, or initial, infection with EBV may not produce symptoms or there can be a number of different symptoms, especially in young children. The manifestations of primary EBV infection include...


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