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Nasopharyngeal cancer (Nasopharyngeal carcinoma): Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

  • Posted on- Aug 31, 2015
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Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is a cancer that develops in the nasopharynx, which is located behind your nose and above the back of your throat. The cancer can occur at any age, but is more likely to be found in people aged 50-60. It affects more men than women. Nasopharyngeal cancer is difficult to detect early. That’s probably because the nasopharynx isn’t easy to examine and symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer are similar to those of other more common conditions. The cancer is more common in the Far East nations as compared to the western countries.

Symptoms associated with nasopharyngeal cancer

As with different forms of cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer also has no signs and symptoms initially. However, when the cancer is in its advanced stage, it may depict the following symptoms:


Diagnosis of nasopharyngeal cancer

Once you have shown the symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer, your doctor may suggest different tests and procedures to diagnose nasopharyngeal cancer:
  • Physical exam: This is the first stage of diagnosis. Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms. He/she may check for swelling in your lymph nodes.
  • Endoscopy: If nasopharyngeal cancer is suspected, your doctor may recommend a nasal endoscopy which requires using a thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end to see inside your nasopharynx and look for abnormalities.
  • Test to remove a sample of suspicious cells: Guided by the endoscopy, your doctor will take a small tissue sample to be tested for cancer (biopsy).
  • Imaging tests: Once the diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor orders other tests to determine the extent of the cancer, such as CT scan, MRI, PET scan and X-Ray.

Treatment options for nasopharyngeal cancer

The right kind of treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer depends on the stage of your cancer, your treatment goals, your overall health and the side effects you're willing to tolerate. There are several options including:
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy for nasopharyngeal carcinoma is usually administered in a procedure called external beam radiation. For small nasopharyngeal tumours, radiation therapy may be the only treatment necessary.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be given in pill form, administered through a vein or both. It may be given at the same time as radiation therapy, after or before radiation therapy.
  • Surgery: Surgery is not often used as a treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer. It may only be required to remove cancerous lymph nodes in the neck.

Everyone deals with a cancer diagnosis differently. You might experience shock, fear or depression post diagnosis. A cancer diagnosis can make you feel as though you have little control, so take steps to empower yourself and control what you can about your health.