Nasopharynx Cancer

What is Nasopharynx (Nose) Cancer?

Nasopharynx cancer (NPC), also commonly known as nose cancer, is an abnormal growth of tissue called tumour in the nasopharynx.  It develops when the cells in the nasopharynx divide uncontrollably and produce extra tissue.

NPC can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

The exact causes of NPC are not yet known. However, several risk factors can increase the chance of developing NPC:

  • As a common viral infection, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection usually results in mild symptoms such as fever and sore throat. It has been linked to NPC development as the virus has been found in nearly all NPC cells. However, EBV infection itself is not enough to cause NPC, which is common in Chinese (especially Cantonese) people, and particularly in men aged between 20 and 50 years.
  • NPC has also been linked to certain dietary habits. It is very common in areas of Asia, northern Africa, and the arctic region where are characterised by diets that are high in salts, cured fish and meat.
  • Smoking.

Symptoms of NPC include:

  • Blocked nose and stuffiness
  • Blood-stained sputum from the nose and throat
  • Blurry vision
  • Difficulty speaking or breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Earache or ear discharge
  • Fatigue
  • Hearing loss or tinnitus (ear ringing), usually affecting one side only
  • Hoarseness
  • Lumps in the neck or on the nose
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Recurrent headaches
  • Recurrent nosebleeds
  • Unexplained weight loss

There are different treatment options for NPC. ENT specialist will evaluate the patient’s condition and suggest the most appropriate treatment  depending on  cancer stage and overall health. Treatment may include:

  • Chemotherapy using one or a combination of toxic drugs that circulate in the bloodstream and kill rapidly growing cells, including healthy ones,  which also alleviates the symptoms of NPC
  • Neck dissection to remove cancerous lymph nodes after resection of the primary tumourif NPC has spread to neighbouring lymph nodes
  • Radiation therapy, the most common form of treatment can be delivered in different ways:
    • Brachytherapy, which uses thin metal rods containing radioactive materials to deliver radiation to cancer cells
    • Intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT), a radiation method that allows precise and computer-guided delivery of radiation beams to kill cancer cells, while sparing surrounding healthy tissues
    • Radiotherapy or external energy beams can be used to kill cancer cells and alleviate symptoms
  • Surgery to remove nasopharyngeal tumours for the minority of NPC cases that do not respond to radiotherapy

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