Nasopharyngeal cancer is one of the more rare forms of head and neck cancer. This cancer develops in the nasopharynx region which is in the upper throat and just behind the nose. The nasopharynx is placed above the roof of the mouth and at the base of the skull. The nose transfers your breaths through the nasopharynx to the lungs. A cancer in the nasopharynx region is called as nasopharyngeal cancer.
What are the causes of Nasopharyngeal Cancer?
Although the medical community has not been able to pinpoint the exact causes for nasopharyngeal cancer it has been determined that this cancer is strongly related to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). An EBV infection is a common occurrence only a small fraction of those affected are likely to develop nasopharyngeal cancer.
On rare occasions the DNA of the EBV can get mixed with the DNA of the nasopharynx cells and cause an uncontrollable growth in these cells leading to formation of cancerous mass.
Other minor risk factors for developing nasopharyngeal cancer are a steady diet of salt-cured meat and fish as well as excessive consumption of tobacco and alcohol.
What are the signs and symptoms of Nasopharyngeal Cancer?
The commonly seen signs and symptoms of a nasopharyngeal cancer are:
- Double/blurred vision
- Hoarseness/speech difficulty
- Recurrent ear infection
- Numb/painful face
- Loss of hearing
- Lump in nose/neck
- Stuffy nose
- Stuffy throat
It is advisable to consult an experienced physician or an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist immediately in case you see any of the signs and symptoms as they will be able to better determine if the symptoms indicate towards nasopharyngeal cancer or any other medical condition.
How is Nasopharyngeal Cancer diagnosed?
Nasopharyngeal cancer is initially diagnosed through a detailed physical examination of the ear, nose and throat by an experienced otolaryngologist, also known as an ENT specialist.
Most nasopharyngeal cancers show a lump in the neck which indicates that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
The physical examination usually includes a nasopharyngoscopy. The ENT specialist will use a set of small mirrors with light attachments to be inserted through the oral (or nasal) cavity into the throat to get a better view of the nasopharnx and to check the area for abnormal growths, bleeding and other problems.
If the nasopharyngoscopy determines the presence of an abnormal growth in the nasopharynx region the ENT specialist might also remove a piece of the abnormal tissue through a biopsy for detailed diagnosis of the type of cancerous cell in it.
At times imaging tests such as chest x-ray, MRI, CT scan and Ultrasound of the neck might also be suggested. These tests help determine the extent of the cancerous tissue.
How is Nasopharyngeal Cancer treated?
After a diagnosis of nasopharyngeal cancer you will be required to have regular follow-up visits to the ENT specialist during and after treatment.
There are various forms of treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer however the otolaryngologist will suggest the most suitable form of treatment for your individual case according to the locations of the tumor, the stage of the tumor and keeping in mind the level of your overall health.
These are the treatment methods for nasopharyngeal cancer:
Surgery can be a reliable method to remove the entire nasopharyngeal cancer growth completely. Although the surgery can be risky as the nasopharynx is located very close to the eye nerves and nearby vital organs.
Radiation therapy involves using high-energy focused beams of x-rays to halt the growth of the cancerous cells as well as to destroy them. This is an ideal treatment method for early stage nasopharyngeal cancer.
The latest treatment method for nasopharyngeal cancer in the radiation therapy category is known as the IMRT which delivers a precise and accurate beam of high-energy radiation to destroy the cancerous tissue without damaging the surrounding healthy tissue.
This form of nasopharyngeal cancer treatment involves the use of medicinal drugs to kill the cancerous cells. Although this method of treatment is not commonly considered to treat the nasopharyngeal cancer it can certainly increase the life-expectancy.
This treatment method for nasopharyngeal cancer works by enhancing or modifying the functioning of the body’s natural immune system through monoclonal antibodies.
How successful is the treatment for Nasopharyngeal Cancer?
The success of any type of nasopharyngeal cancer treatment depends on certain factors such as the stage of cancer during treatment (including metastasizing), the type of nasopharyngeal cancer cells that are causing the cancerous growth, the size of the abnormal growth (tumor) as well as the level of your overall health and age.