In this section: Nasopharyngeal Cancer


What do we mean by 'Nasopharyngeal Cancer'? It is a type of Throat Cancer that starts in or behind the nose. If it's not the cancer type you're looking for, please explore the information about other types of Throat Cancers or other types of Head and Neck Cancers.

All the information in this section is available in a PDF.
Download it here.

1. What is Nasopharyngeal Cancer?

Nasopharyngeal Cancer is a type of throat cancer that forms in the nasopharynx, which is highest part of the throat —  in or behind the nose.

Cancer occurs when cells become abnormal, grow uncontrollably and have the potential to spread to other parts of the body. These cells build up to form a mass (or lump). 

Watch this 3D video explainer about Nasopharyngeal Cancer:

2. What is the nasopharynx?

The pharynx is the medical term for the throat. It has three parts:

  • nasopharynx (upper throat)
  • oropharynx (mid throat, including the tonsils)
  • hypopharynx (lower throat).
The nasopharynx is the highest part of the throat. It is the airway behind the nose and above the top of the mouth (soft palate). 

3. What does the nasopharynx do?

The nasopharynx connects the nose (nasal) cavity to the space behind the mouth (the oropharynx). 

The nasopharynx allows air breathed into the nose to go down through the voice box (larynx) and into the lungs. It also allows phlegm (mucus) from the nose to be swallowed or spat out.  

Diagram of the nasopharynx surrounding areas:

4. What causes Nasopharyngeal Cancer?

Doctors often can’t explain why a person gets cancer. But we do know what makes some cancers more likely.

The main causes of Nasopharyngeal Cancer are: 

  1. Viruses — in particular the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).

  2. Smoking (cigarettes, cigars or pipes) or using smokeless tobacco (snuff and chewing tobacco) — If a person smokes or has smoked in the past they have a higher risk of getting nasopharyngeal cancer than someone who has never smoked.​ Get information about quitting smoking.

Other factors that increase the risk of Nasopharyngeal Cancer are: 

  • Age — Most nasopharyngeal cancers are in people aged 40 years and over

  • Being male — In Australia, men are about three times more likely than women to get nasopharyngeal cancer 

  • Being from Southern China or South East Asia — People from Southern China and South East Asia seem to have a higher risk.

  • Eating a lot of salt, cured fish and meat

All the information in this section is available in a PDF.
Download it here.
1. Introduction to Nasopharyngeal Cancer
  • What is Nasopharyngeal Cancer?
  • What is the nasopharynx?
  • What does the nasopharynx do?
  • What causes Nasopharyngeal Cancer?
2. Symptoms, signs and tests of Nasopharyngeal Cancer
  • Signs and Symptoms of Nasopharyngeal Cancer
  • Tests for Nasopharyngeal Cancer
3. Treatment for Nasopharyngeal Cancer
  • Treatment options for Nasopharyngeal Cancer
  • Surgery 
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  1. Head and Neck Cancer Australia Resources 
  2. External Links to other Head and Neck Cancer Resources