Expert Care for Nasopharyngeal Cancer
The nasopharynx is located just behind the nose, above the soft palate (roof of the mouth), and forms the upper part of the throat. Cancer that develops in the nasopharynx is called nasopharyngeal cancer, a type of head and neck cancer.
Most nasopharyngeal cancers begin in the squamous cells, which are thin, flat cells that line the nasopharynx. These types of cells also form the top layer of skin and make up other parts of the body such as the lungs and esophagus.
At the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, we have teams of surgeons, doctors, nurses, and other providers who specialize in treating cancers of the head and neck. Our team for nasopharyngeal cancer care includes otolaryngologists (ear, nose, and throat specialists), radiation and medical oncologists, oral and reconstructive surgeons, physical and occupational therapists, and speech pathologists.
Causes and Risk Factors of Nasopharyngeal Cancer
The causes of nasopharyngeal cancer are not fully known, but certain factors can increase the chance of developing it.
Keep in mind that not everyone with risk factors will develop nasopharyngeal cancer. Also, people without known risk factors can develop the disease. Factors that can increase the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer include:
- Gender: Nasopharyngeal cancer affects men twice as much as women.
- Race and ethnicity: Asian and Pacific Islanders, especially Chinese Americans, have a higher risk of the disease.
- Geography: People in southern China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, northwest Canada, and Greenland are at a higher risk.
- Diet: Eating a large quantity of salt-cured meats and fish is associated with a higher risk of nasopharyngeal cancer.
- Epstein-Barr virus: Infection with this virus, which usually occurs in childhood, is associated with nasopharyngeal cancer later in life.
- Genes: People with certain tissue types, which affect the immune system’s ability to fight cancer, can be more susceptible to nasopharyngeal cancer.
- Alcohol and tobacco use
- Extensive exposure to smoke or dust
Patients can help prevent some types of cancer by avoiding certain risk factors. Learn more about head and neck cancer awareness and prevention.
Symptoms of Nasopharyngeal Cancer
Some symptoms can occur with other conditions, and some people do not experience any symptoms. Patients should see their doctor if they experience any of these symptoms and they don’t go away:
- One or more lumps in the neck, usually not painful
- Feeling of fullness in the ear, especially on only one side
- Hearing loss, pain, or ringing in the ear
- Frequent ear infections, especially in adults who have not previously had them
- Difficulty opening the mouth
- Nasal stuffiness or blockage
- Facial pain or numbness
- Blurred or double vision
Stages of Nasopharyngeal Cancer
Cancer staging is the process doctors use to determine how large a tumor is, whether cancer has spread, and, if so, how far. The stages of nasopharyngeal cancer include: