Is Nasopharyngeal Cancer Curable?

Medically Reviewed on 12/29/2022
Nasopharyngeal Cancer
Radiation therapy is the first choice of treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer.

Most nasopharyngeal cancers are curable if detected early. The success rate of the treatment is higher.

Radiation therapy is the mainstay treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer and is an important aspect of cancer care.

The outcome of the treatment of nasopharyngeal cancer may depend on the following factors:

  • Age
  • A significantly long interval between biopsy and the beginning of radiation therapy
  • Family history
  • Tobacco smoking
  • Salted fish in the diet

What is nasopharyngeal carcinoma?

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is a rare type of head and neck cancer originating in the nasopharynx. The nasopharynx is the superior part of the throat behind the nose and above the palate.

The breathed-in air flows through the nose, nasopharynx, and throat before it reaches the lungs. NPC commonly starts in the squamous cells that line the nasopharynx.

  • It affects less than 1 out of 100,000 people in the United States.
  • The condition can develop at any age and even affect children.

NPC often spreads to the nearby lymph nodes or other organs, such as the lungs and liver.

What causes nasopharyngeal cancer?

The exact cause of nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) is unknown; however, certain factors can increase the risk of developing NPC. A risk factor is something that increases your risk of getting cancer.

Some of the risk factors include:

  • Epstein-Barr virus infection
  • Salt-cured foods (people who consume more salt-cured meat and fish have a higher chance of developing NPC)
  • Heavy drinking and smoking
  • Having Asian ancestry
  • Male gender
  • Having a family history of NPC

What are the signs and symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer?

A lump on the back of the neck is the primary symptom of nasopharyngeal cancer.

Other symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer include:

How is nasopharyngeal cancer diagnosed?

The physician may use the following tests and procedures to diagnose nasopharyngeal cancer:

  • Physical exam and health history: The physician examines the body to check for any signs of illness or abnormalities. Your medical history, habits, and past illnesses and treatments will be noted and analyzed.
  • Neurological exam: The physician asks a series of questions and performs tests to check the functioning of the brain, spinal cord, and nerve.
  • Ultrasound: High-energy sound waves (ultrasounds) bounce off from the internal tissues and organs to create echoes. These echoes form a picture, commonly called a sonogram.
  • CT scan: Takes detailed photos of the body from various angles and projects them in a series. A dye can be administered intravenously or orally to help visualize tissues and organs better.
  • MRI: Uses a magnetic field, radio waves, and a computer to take detailed photos of affected areas of the body.
  • Chest X-ray: Involves an X-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest.
  • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) test: A blood test to identify the antibodies to the EBV and DNA markers of EBV.
  • Hearing test: To check if the person is capable of hearing soft, loud, low, and high-pitched sounds.


Skin Cancer Symptoms, Types, Images See Slideshow

What are the stages of nasopharyngeal cancer?

The stage of cancer helps decide the extent to which it has grown and spread.

Table 1. The stages of nasopharyngeal cancer
Stages The extent of cancer spread
0 Cancer is in the top layer of cells inside the nasopharynx.
I The tumor has grown into nearby structures, including the back of the throat or the nasal cavity.
II Cancer has spread one or more lymph nodes on one side of the neck.
III Cancer has spread to both sides of the neck.
IV Cancer has spread to the skull, eye, cranial nerves, salivary glands, the lower part of the throat, or the distant parts of the body beyond the head and neck, such as the lungs.

How is nasopharyngeal cancer treated?

Radiation therapy is the first choice of treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer. Some could be sensitive to this type of therapy.

Other treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy: Aims to kill or destroy cancer cells or prevent their differentiation. It can be administered orally or intravenously.
  • Surgery: Is used to remove lymph nodes in the neck that could not be destroyed by other treatment options.
  • Targeted drug therapy: Cetuximab injections.
  • Immunotherapy: Boosts your immune cells to fight cancer cells.
Medically Reviewed on 12/29/2022
Image Source: Getty image

Nasopharyngeal Cancer.

Nasopharyngeal Cancer Treatment (Adult) (PDQ®)–Patient Version.