Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (also called NPC, nasopharynx cancer or Cantonese cancer) is a head and neck cancer more frequently seen in Asia. In 2018, there were 831 new cases of nasopharyngeal carcinoma in Hong Kong, accounting for 2.4% of all new cancer cases. Fortunately, the incidence rate per 100,000, which is 3 times higher for men, dropped an average of 50% between 1983 and 2018. Although it is hardly noticed early, the chance to cure nasopharyngeal carcinoma is high at an early stage.
Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is a malignant tumor occurring in the nasopharynx, which is located at the very back of the nose and above the back of the throat. Carcinoma is the most common type of cancer. They are abnormal cells that make up the skin and organ tissues growing out of control. Carcinomas may spread to other parts of the body (metastasis) to cause other problems and form new cancer. Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is hard to be detected not only because of its hidden location, but also because most nasopharyngeal carcinoma symptoms mimic other common conditions.
In the early stage, nasopharyngeal carcinoma symptoms may not be obvious. However, when the tumor grows and spreads into the surrounding tissues, you may start to notice the following signs and symptoms:
Although the exact cause of nasopharyngeal carcinoma is not known yet, it is thought to be related to diets, infections, and heredity. The following risk factors may contribute to the cause of nasopharyngeal carcinoma, though it does not mean that you must develop the disease even if you have many or all the following risk factors:
Unfortunately, the association between nasopharyngeal carcinoma and the above said risk factors is not completely understood. People who develop nasopharyngeal carcinoma can have no risk factors. Nonetheless, some of the risk factors can still be controlled, such as the consumption of salt-cured foods. In addition, it is recommended to have a regular checkup, particularly when you have a family history of nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Also, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible if you experience symptoms like swollen neck lymph nodes. The earlier you discover, the more successful you prevent and treat nasopharyngeal carcinoma.
Since the nasopharynx is hard to be examined, proper examination by an oncologist or otolaryngologist with corresponding equipment is recommended. The following diagnostic tests may be taken to test and diagnose nasopharyngeal carcinoma:
After the physician has confirmed the diagnosis, other tests (mainly imaging tests) are needed to see if cancer has spread to other parts of the body, especially the lung. Tests that can determine the extent and stage of cancer include:
The TNM staging system is most commonly used for determining the stage of nasopharyngeal carcinoma. The stage of cancer describes how severe the condition is and how best to treat it.
Stage of Cancer
|The tumor is only in the lining of the nasopharynx and has not spread to nearby lymph nodes and other parts of the body.|
|The tumor is in the nasopharynx or has grown into the oropharynx and/or nasal cavity. It has not spread to nearby lymph nodes and other parts of the body.|
|The tumor has either grown into the oropharynx and/or nasal cavity OR has grown into the space around the pharynx and/or nearby muscles. It can also have been spread to the lymph nodes, but not other parts of the body.|
|The tumor has grown into any of the following: oropharynx, nasal cavity, sinuses and/or the bones nearby. It might or might not involve the spread to lymph nodes. The cancer has not spread to distant parts of the body.|
|The tumor has grown into the skull and/or cranial nerves, the lower part of the throat, the main salivary gland, or the eye or its nearby tissues. It might or might not involve the spread to lymph nodes. The cancer has not spread to distant parts of the body.|
|The cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, liver or bones.|
|The cancer comes back after treatment.|
Treatment options for nasopharyngeal carcinoma depend on the stage of cancer. If nasopharyngeal carcinoma is detected early, it can be often cured. The general treatment is radiation therapy, with or without chemotherapy.
The most common and noticeable sign of nasopharyngeal cancer is a lump or mass found in the neck. The lumps are neither tender nor painful. Other symptoms include stuffiness, nose bleeding, headache, double vision, hearing loss, facial paralysis, etc.
If nasopharyngeal carcinoma is detected early, it is usually curable. For stage I nasopharyngeal carcinoma, the cure rate is 90%. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the symptoms and risk factors. Check out this guide to find out more.
Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is a rare disease that only affects less than 1 person per 100,000 people each year. This cancer is more common in Asia (especially Southern China and Hong Kong), accounting for 80% of total cases in the world.
It is not known if nasopharyngeal cancer would be inherited or not. However, people with a family history of nasopharyngeal carcinoma are more likely to develop this disease. It could be affected by genes and/or environmental factors, such as diet.
This article was independently written by Healthy Matters. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.
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