Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma can be defined as the proliferation of cancer cells, in the tissues of the nasopharynx, i.e. the upper part of the throat, behind the nose. It is a rare type of Head and Neck Cancer, and also known as Nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Also Read: Oral Cancer: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
The nasopharynx is present at the base of the skull and above the roof of the mouth. During the process of breathing, air flows through the nostrils into the throat and thereby into the nasopharynx and ultimately reach the lungs. Also Read: Oesophageal Cancer: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
Although the exact cause of the cancer is yet unknown, several scientific findings prove a close link of this type of cancer with the Epstein-Barr virus and genetic mutation. Cancer usually develops when one or more genetic mutations cause the normal nasal cells to grow abnormally and out of control, and ultimately begin piling up to form tumorous growths. These tumours block the surrounding structures and ultimately spread to other parts of the body. The nasopharyngeal carcinoma usually develops in the squamous cells that line the surface of the nasopharynx.
Some causative factors that increase the risk of having this type of cancer are:
Age: Quite common in adults between the ages of 30-50.
Sex: It is more common in men than in women.
Diet: A diet comprised of salt-cured foods, i.e. fish, meat and vegetables increases the risk of this cancer.
Family History: If one or more members of the family have been detected with this cancer in the past, it increases the risk.
Viral Infection: The common EBV virus, i.e. Epstein-Barr virus upsurges the chances of getting this cancer.
Addiction: Extreme consumption of tobacco or alcohol ups the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer.
It is quite challenging to diagnose this cancer as the common signs and symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer doesn’t show up until the 2nd or 3rd stage and is usually characterized by:
- Lump in neck
- Blood in the saliva
- Stuffy nose
- Blurred or double vision as in the case of keratoconus
- Recurring ear infections
- Face pain or numbness
- Hearing loss, ringing in the ears, or a feeling of fullness in the ear
- Difficulty in opening the mouth
- Sore throat
If the cancer is left untreated, it can cause certain complications. It can spread and grow large enough and invade other parts of the body such as the brain, throat and bones. The preliminary tumours can even spread to the lymph nodes and thereby to other distant organs of the body.
Diagnosis And Treatment
On witnessing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, it is strictly advised to consult a doctor at the earliest. The doctor usually diagnoses this cancer by doing a thorough physical examination by slightly pressing the neck to feel for any swelling in the lymph nodes. He may also perform a nasal endoscopy to confirm the size and severity of the cancerous tumour.
Other tests include:
- Blood Tests
- Test for the EBV virus
- Imaging techniques like Chest X-ray, CT-scan, MRI, Ultrasound of the neck
Stages Of Nasopharyngeal Cancer
Stage 0: Also known as carcinoma in situ, at this stage size of the tumour is very small.
Stage I: The tumour grows in size but being in the early stage, it hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes.
Stage II: In this stage, the cancerous cells may have spread to the lymph nodes.
Stages III: The cancerous cells have grown and may have spread to the nearby tissues but has not yet spread to distant parts of the body.
Stage IV: It is an advanced stage, where the malignant cells have not only spread to nearby tissue but also other chief organs of the body.
Treatment options usually depend upon the severity and stage of cancer and include:
- Radiation Therapy
- Biologic Medication
- Palliative Care