About the Condition
Nasopharyngeal cancer is a rare type of cancer that affects the part of the throat (pharynx) connecting the back of the nose to the back of the mouth. Nasopharyngeal cancer occurs when the genetic material of cells in the pharynx become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. The abnormal cells then replicate, causing cancer. If undetected, the cancer can spread beyond the throat and move to other parts of the body.
Only about 240 people are diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer each year in the UK*. Though the exact cause of nasopharyngeal cancer is unknown, a number of factors can increase the risk of developing the condition:
- being of South Chinese or North African descent
- having a diet very high in salt-cured meats and fish
- being exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a common virus that causes glandular fever
- being regularly exposed to hardwood dust through your job
- having a first-degree relative (such as a parent) who has had the condition
About three times as many men as women are affected by nasopharyngeal cancer and the average age at diagnosis is about 50*.
It is often hard to recognise nasopharyngeal cancer because the symptoms are similar to other less serious conditions, and many people don’t show any symptoms until the cancer has progressed to an advanced stage. Symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer can include:
- a lump in the neck
- hearing loss (usually only in one ear)
- tinnitus (hearing sound from inside the body rather than from an outside source)
- a blocked or stuffy nose
If you have been experiencing any of these symptoms for more than three weeks, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once, as your chances of recovery are much higher if your cancer is diagnosed early.
If you’re referred to CCL for diagnosis, your consultant or oncologist will advise you on which tests are relevant to your individual symptoms. As nasopharyngeal cancer is so rare, and the symptoms can indicate many other conditions, it is vital for the diagnosis to be as swift and as accurate as possible. Tests include:
- An examination of the throat using a small mirror and a light
- a Nasendoscopy, which is where a thin, flexible telescope (endoscope) is inserted up your nose and passed down your throat to look for any abnormalities, as this can be uncomfortable local anaesthetic can be used to numb your nose and throat
- a Panendoscopy, which involves a more detailed examination of your nose and throat carried out under general anaesthetic using a series of small, rigid telescopes connected together
- A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan, which is a procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body
- A Computerised Tomography (CT) scan, which shows a 3D image of the area being looked at
- A biopsy, where cell samples are taken for examination for signs of cancer, which is usually done during a panendoscopy
At CCL patients are usually treated by a team of different specialist, known as a Multi-Disciplinary Team, or MDT. Due to the fact that it is difficult to access the affected area, surgery is not usually used to treat nasopharyngeal cancer. The main treatments for nasopharyngeal cancer are:
- Radiotherapy, which is where high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
- Chemotherapy, which involves the use of chemical agents which are toxic to cancer cells, destroying them and preventing them from spreading to different areas. This can be given by injection or in tablet form
Cancer doesn’t just leave a physical impact on an individual, it can have a huge emotional effect as well. Cancer and its treatment can be overwhelming, causing a wide variety of emotions, and it is important to remember that there is no right or wrong response. Reactions vary hugely from person to person, and most people find that it becomes easier to cope when they’re given additional support, so that’s what we do.
At CCL we provide support that caters to both the physical and emotional needs of the patient, before, during and after treatment. We offer a wide range of services for patients, as well as their loved ones, designed to make a very difficult time as easy as possible, and to give our patients the best treatment and support possible.