Nasopharyngeal cancer is an uncommon type of cancer that infects the part of the throat that is connected to the back of the nose to the back of the mouth known as the pharynx.
Nasopharyngeal carcinoma or cancer is an uncommon tumor starting from the epithelium of the nasopharynx. It is responsible for about 1% of mainly childhood malignancies. On the other hand, nearly all adult nasopharyngeal cancers are carcinomas, only about 35-50% of nasopharyngeal malignancies have carcinomas effect in children.
Signs of nasopharyngeal cancer
Just like other cancers, it’s difficult to identify nasopharyngeal cancer because the symptoms are not prominent, not serious signs. In many cases, most of the people having nasopharyngeal cancer don’t show any symptoms or signs until cancer reaches an advanced and more serious stage.
Common symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer are:
- Presence of lump in the neck
- Problem in listening i.e hearing loss that usually occurs only in 1 ear
- Tinnitus meaning hearing sounds from inside the body rather than from an outside source.
- Blocked nose
- Nosebleeds have become more common
It’s not certain that they’ll be caused only by nasopharyngeal cancer, but it’s always best to get them checked as soon as possible.
What is the reason for nasopharyngeal cancer?
The exact cause of nasopharyngeal cancer is not yet clear, but some factors increase the likelihood of developing the condition.
This may include:
- South Chinese or north African descent has more chances
- If you have a diet very high in salt-cured meats and fish
- If someone is being exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), it’s a common virus that usually causes glandular fever
- Have to work in a place where you’re regularly exposed to hardwood dust
- If you have a relative, such as a parent, who’s had the condition
If someone is being exposed to the human papillomavirus (HPV) he might have an increased risk of developing specific types of nasopharyngeal cancer.
Men are 3 times more at risk as compared to women in affecting nasopharyngeal cancer. The cancers are more commonly found in the nose (nasal cavity) or mouth; the average age is about 50.
What are benign nasopharyngeal tumours?
Benign nasopharyngeal tumors are very uncommon and usually occur in children and young adults. These tumors do not travel to other body parts and are not life-taking. Benign nasopharyngeal tumors usually don’t need treatment. When they have to be treated, the treatment is not similar to that applied for nasopharyngeal cancer. If someone has a benign tumor, consult the doctor.
How nasopharyngeal cancer is diagnosed:
If someone has symptoms that show nasopharyngeal cancer, the GP usually asks him about his symptoms and proceeds with some examinations. This may include examining the throat by using a small mirror and a light. They asked him to go to a head and neck cancer specialist i.e oncologist if further tests are necessary.
The tests may have include:
- Nasendoscopy – in this test a thin, wire endoscope is inserted up to the nose and passed down the throat to see if there are any signs of abnormalities; this test is usually performed while someone is conscious, however, a local anesthetic is used for numbing nose and throat while performing the test.
- Imaging scans – it includes MRI scans or CT scans to look for tumors and check if cancer has spread
- Panendoscopy – it’s a more thorough examination of the nose and throat and it is carried out when someone is unconscious using a series of small, rigid telescopes that are connected.
- Biopsy – in this method a small tissue sample is removed so it can be examined in a laboratory.
These tests showed the doctors to confirm whether he has nasopharyngeal cancer. Through these reports, they will be able to”stage” cancer. giving it a score to describe how big it is and how much it has spread.
Treatment of nasopharyngeal cancer
If someone is diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer, you’ll be taken care of by a team of different specialists who work together. Many health centers provide facilities for the diagnosis and treatment of nasopharyngeal cancer such as Take2 Health is one of the good centers consisting of an experienced research team and types of equipment to treat and scan the early stages of nasopharyngeal cancer.
Main treatments for nasopharyngeal cancer include:
- Radiotherapy – in this method radiations kill cancer cells
- Chemotherapy – medication is given to kill cancer cells
Most of the time a combination of both radiotherapy and chemotherapy will be given. Surgery isn’t used for the treatment of nasopharyngeal cancer. The reason for that is it’s difficult for surgeons to access the affected area. For smokers, they need to give up smoking. Smoking increases the risk of cancer returning and may cause adverse effects from treatment.
Radiotherapy is the most common way to treat nasopharyngeal cancer. It can be used to treat very early-stage cancers and sometimes in combination with chemotherapy for late stages of cancers. external radiotherapy is mostly used in most cases. It is done by using a machine to focus high-energy radiation beams on the affected area. Radiation beams of different strengths are applied to a tumor from different angles. It helps to maximize the dose to the tumor while minimizing the effect on nearby healthy tissue Depending on the type of treatment, one needs to stay in hospital for some time.
Radiotherapy is a painless procedure, but it has significant side effects;
- It can cause red and sore skin in the treatment area
- feeling sick during the treatment
- affect your sense of taste
- It causes dry mouth
- It may cause hair loss
These side effects are maybe temporary or can be permanent.
Chemotherapy is used before or also alongside radiotherapy for late stages of nasopharyngeal cancers. In this treatment, a drip into a vein (intravenous chemotherapy) is usually given, 3 to 4 weeks over several months. For this treatment, one won’t have to stay in hospital overnight.
Chemotherapy can cause many side effects, such as:
- feeling sick during and after treatment
- It may cause issues like diarrhea
- It causes sore mouth
- Tiredness is one of the common side effects
These side effects also have a risk of long-term problems, such as infertility.
Nasopharyngeal cancer depends on age, someone’s health, and how late one gets diagnosed. Radiotherapy is used to cure very early-stage nasopharyngeal cancer.
Advanced stage cancers are treated with both chemotherapy and radiotherapy. So it’s advisable to get treatment as early as possible so that it can easily be taken care of at the right time. Nasopharyngeal cancer is curable if treated accordingly.
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