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Nasopharyngeal Cancer

What is Nasopharyngeal Cancer?

A rare type of head & neck cancer with low incidence rates in India, nasopharyngeal cancer originates in the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat that lies at the skull base. The malignancy is not easy to diagnose as it is quite difficult to examine the area and the symptoms are similar to other, comparatively less serious conditions.

What are the symptoms that you need to look out for?

Most people with nasopharyngeal cancer do not experience any symptom initially and these develop gradually as the cancer progresses. Some common symptoms associated with nasopharyngeal cancer include:

  • A mass or lump in the neck
  • Loss of hearing in one or both ears
  • Tinnitus, which is marked by a ringing sound in the ears
  • Blocked and stuffy nose
  • Discharging blood from the nose
  • Sore throat
  • Frequent headaches
    • What causes Nasopharyngeal Cancer?

      Nasopharyngeal cancer is a result of genetic mutations that cause the otherwise normal cells to divide and grow uncontrollably, and invade the nearby organs and structures. Though it is not known what exactly causes these mutations, there are certain factors that are known to elevate the risks of the same.

      What are the various risk factors associated with Nasopharyngeal Cancer?

      • Sex – The cancer is more common in males as compared to females
      • Age – Though the malignancy can affect people of any age group, it is more likely to affect adults in the age group of 30 to 50 years
      • Salt cured foods – These contain certain chemicals, over-exposure to which can increase your risks of developing nasopharyngeal cancer
      • Epstein-Barr virus – It is a very common virus that triggers symptoms similar to those of cold and has have been linked to several different types of cancer, including nasopharyngeal cancer
      • Family history – The cancer tends to run in families, which means that you are at a higher risk of acquiring it if any of your close family members have been detected with the same
      • Alcohol and tobacco – Excessive alcohol intake and smoking has also been linked to Nasopharyngeal cancer

      Screening and diagnosis

      • Physical examination – The doctor will carry out a general exam to look for any swelling or lump in your neck
      • Nasal endoscopy – A narrow, flexible tube with a tiny ultrasound probe will be introduced via the or the opening in the back of the throat, to look for any abnormalities in the nasopharynx
      • Biopsy – This involves the collecting of a small sample of tissues to be thoroughly assessed for any signs of cancer.
      • Imaging tests – These include procedures like CT (computerized tomography) scans, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), PET (positron emission tomography) scan and x-rays, for generating detailed images of the nasopharynx.


      Surgery – Surgery is a less common treatment option that usually aims at removing the affected lymph nodes or extracting the tumours. This is done by making a tiny incision in the roof of the mouth to access the nasopharynx and remove the cancerous mass

      Radiation therapy – It uses high energy radiations or protons to kill and target the cancer cells. Doctors usually resort to external beam radiation, which involves the use of a special machine for directing the radiations, without actually invading the patient’s body. Radiation therapy can effectively help to treat smaller tumours and may be combined with chemotherapy to address the larger ones.

      Chemotherapy – It uses special drugs, that are given orally or intravenously, to target rapidly-growing cancerous cells. The therapy can be given in 3 ways, depending upon the specific needs and requirements of the patients.

      • Chemotherapy in combination with radiation therapy, to enhance the effectiveness of the latter. This is commonly referred to as concomitant therapy or chemoradiation.
      • Chemotherapy post-radiation therapy, to destroy any remaining cancerous cells
      • Chemotherapy before radiation therapy

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