backup og meta

Nasopharyngeal Cancer Symptoms: What To Watch Out For

Medically reviewed by John Paul Abrina, MD · Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jul 06, 2022

Nasopharyngeal Cancer Symptoms: What To Watch Out For

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is a type of cancer originating at the nasopharynx, which is located behind your nose (naso) and above the back of your throat (pharynx). Experts say it is a rare type of cancer but it occurs more frequently in some parts of the world, particularly in Southeast Asia. What nasopharyngeal cancer symptoms should you watch out for?

Like many other types of cancer, its exact cause is still unknown. 

Before we talk about the nasopharyngeal cancer symptoms, let’s discuss the causes and risk factors.

The exact reason why people develop nasopharyngeal carcinoma is still unknown; however, health authorities have identified several factors that increase a person’s risk of having it:

  • Age: Nasopharyngeal cancer can occur at any age, but it’s more common in people aged 50 to 60.
  • Gender: It is more common among women.
  • Family History: Having a relative with nasopharyngeal cancer puts you at a higher risk.
  • Diet: High intake of salt-cured fish and meat tends to heighten risk.
  • Diseases: Reports indicate that exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus also increases nasopharyngeal cancer risk.
  • Work: People whose jobs involve regular exposure to hardwood dust are also at a higher risk.

Nasopharyngeal cancer symptoms are often easy to miss

It’s not easy to detect nasopharyngeal cancer because the symptoms are similar to other less severe conditions. Additionally, most patients do not experience any symptoms until the cancer has reached an advanced stage.

Below are the possible noticeable nasopharyngeal cancer symptoms:

  • Ringing in the ears or nasal congestion
  • Blood in the saliva or bloody nasal discharge
  • A lump in the neck caused by swollen lymph node
  • Ear infections
  • Ear pain
  • Hearing loss (usually in just one ear)
  • Tinnitus, a condition characterized by hearing sounds from within the body rather than from an external source.  
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Trouble breathing
  • Trouble speaking

If you experience these symptoms, particularly when they manifest suddenly and inexplicably, set an appointment with your doctor.

Patients might need several tests to confirm the cancer

Initially, the doctor conducts a thorough health interview to assess if the patient has nasopharyngeal cancer symptoms. They might use a small mirror and light to look into the throat. If they suspect nasopharyngeal cancer, they will refer the patient to an oncologist who will then recommend further tests, including:

  • Imaging tests, like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT) scans.
  • Nasal endoscopy, where a thin, flexible telescope (endoscope) is inserted into the nose down the throat to look for abnormalities. This procedure uses local anesthesia to numb the nose and throat.
  • Panendoscopy, which is a more comprehensive examination of the upper aerodigestive tract. It uses interconnected small, rigid telescopes and requires general anesthesia, so the patient is unconscious during the procedure.

The doctor may also take a sample of tissues during the panendoscopy to do a biopsy.

Note that doctors use these tests to confirm nasopharyngeal cancer and determine the stage.

As with any cancer, treatment is highly dependent on the stage

The treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer usually involves radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or surgery. But, of course, there are cases where the doctor recommends a combination of these treatments.

Case in point: Stage 1 nasopharyngeal cancer usually only needs radiotherapy. On the other hand, the doctor may recommend chemoradiation followed by more chemotherapy to patients with stage 2 nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Stage 3 may call for radiotherapy followed by surgery, and stage 4 may need more chemotherapy for metastasis, which means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Key Takeaways

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is rare. Patients may find it difficult to detect it early because nasopharyngeal cancer symptoms are similar to those of less serious conditions. Furthermore, most patients do not manifest symptoms until the cancer is in the later stages.

Depending on the stage, treatment modalities for nasopharyngeal cancer involve radiotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery, or a combination of them. 

Learn more about Cancer here


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

John Paul Abrina, MD

Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jul 06, 2022

advertisement iconadvertisement

Was this article helpful?

advertisement iconadvertisement
advertisement iconadvertisement