Nasopharyngeal Cancer

by Mentiga Fatiha | 10:21 PM in |

The body is made up of many types of cells. Normally, cells grow, divide and die. Sometimes, cells mutate (change) and begin to grow and divide more quickly than normal cells. Rather than dying, these abnormal cells clump together to form tumors. If these tumors are malignant (cancerous), they can invade and kill your body's healthy tissues. From these tumors, cancer cells can metastasize (spread) and form new tumors in other parts of the body. By contrast, benign (noncancerous) tumors do not spread to other parts of the body.

Nasopharyngeal cancer is a malignant tumor that develops in the nasopharynx. The nasopharynx is the area where the back part of your nose opens into your upper throat. This is also where tubes from your ears open into your throat.

Who might get nasopharyngeal cancer?
Nasopharyngeal cancer is rare. It most often affects people who are between 30 and 50 years of age. Men are more likely to have nasopharyngeal cancer than women. You are most likely to get this cancer if you or your ancestors came from southern China, particularly Canton (now called Guangzhou) or Hong Kong. You are also more likely to get this cancer if you are from a country in Southeast Asia, like Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia or Thailand.


What causes nasopharyngeal cancer?
No one knows for sure what causes nasopharyngeal cancer. Eating salt-preserved foods (like fish, eggs, leafy vegetables and roots) during early childhood may increase the risk of getting this form of cancer. The Epstein-Barr virus may also make a person more likely to get nasopharyngeal cancer. This is the same virus that causes infectious mononucleosis (also called "mono"). You may also inherit a tendency to get nasopharyngeal cancer.

What are some signs of nasopharyngeal cancer?
If you have nasopharyngeal cancer, you might first notice a lump in your neck. You might have trouble hearing in one ear, or you might have nosebleeds, headaches, or ringing in one or both ears. You might notice a change in the way one side of your face feels.

How can my doctor tell if I have nasopharyngeal cancer?
Your doctor might use endoscopy to try to see the cancer. For this exam, a thin tube with a very small camera on the end is put into your nose. This lets your doctor get a closer look at the cancer tumor.

During endoscopy, your doctor might take a small piece from the tumor. This is called a biopsy sample. The piece of tumor is then sent to a lab where it is looked at under a microscope. Your doctor might also send you to have MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). This exam takes a special "picture" of your nasopharynx so that your doctor can see how big the tumor is.

How is nasopharyngeal cancer treated?
Radiation is quite successful in treating cancer in the nasopharynx. You might also need to have chemotherapy (medicines used to treat cancer). Radiation and chemotherapy can make you feel tired and sick to your stomach. You also might have headaches for a while after radiation treatment.

Many people with nasopharyngeal cancer can live normal lives. Cure is more likely if the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff.
Source: American Academy of Family Physicians

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