In this section: Nasopharyngeal Cancer

NASOPHARYNGEAL CANCER 
Symptoms, Signs & Tests


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.


 
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1. Symptoms and signs of Nasopharyngeal Cancer

The signs and symptoms of Nasopharyngeal Cancer depend on where the cancer is, its size and how far it has spread in the body. 

Common signs and symptoms include:

  • nasal obstruction or stuffiness

  • frequent nose bleeds

  • blocked ear, decreased hearing or ringing in the ear (especially on one side only)

  • a lump in the neck

  • frequent headaches

  • numbness in the face

  • blurred or double vision

Most often these symptoms are not from Nasopharyngeal Cancer. However, if you have any of these symptoms for more than a few weeks, talk to your doctor as early as possible. They may be able to help diagnose and treat you. 

Watch a 3D video explainer about Nasopharyngeal Cancer:


2. What are the tests for Nasopharyngeal Cancer?

It is important that your doctor establishes the diagnosis of Nasopharyngeal Cancer, assesses the size of the cancer and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck or elsewhere in the body.

To answer these questions your doctor will need to do the following things:

  • ask about your medical history including signs you may have noticed, any other health conditions, medications that you are taking, and whether you smoke or drink alcohol
  • perform a physical examination by feeling and looking inside your throat and neck
  • order diagnostic tests, which may include scans. .

Not everyone will need to have every test for nasopharyngeal cancer. Your doctor will recommend the tests that are right for you.  The most common tests for Nasopharyngeal Cancer are:

NASOENDOSCOPY

Your doctor will look inside your nose and throat using a very thin flexible tube with a tiny light and camera on it (called an endoscope). This can be done in an office or clinic.

BIOPSY

This involves taking a piece of tissue (sample) either from the throat or from a lymph node in the neck, if it appears to be involved by the cancer. A pathologist then looks at the sample under a microscope to check for cancer cells. This is often the only sure way to tell if you have cancer. If the suspicious area can be safely accessed through the mouth, your doctor may take a sample for biopsy in the office. However, this is often not possible because the cancer may be too far back and some patients need to be asleep under a general anaesthetic for the biopsy. This is usually done as a day procedure.

Your doctor may order one of two types of biopsies of the lymph nodes in your neck. Both are usually done using an ultrasound scan to make sure the needle is in the right spot.

Fine Needle Aspiration or FNA is used when there is a lump (enlarged lymph node) in the neck that could have cancer cells in it. During the procedure, your doctor will take some cells from the lump using a needle. It may feel a bit uncomfortable during the biopsy.

Core biopsy uses a bigger needle to get more cells for the biopsy. This is more uncomfortable than needle biopsy so doctors only use this if it is really needed.

CT (COMPUTED TOMOGRAPHY) SCAN

This uses X-rays to take pictures of the inside of the body. If a person has cancer, a CT scan can help the doctor to see where it is, measure how big it is, and if it has spread into nearby organs or other parts of the body.

MRI (MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING) SCAN

This uses magnetic fields to take pictures of the inside of the body. This helps your doctor see how far a cancer has grown into the tissue around it.

PET (POSITRON EMISSION TOMOGRAPHY) SCAN

This is a whole body scan that uses a radioactive form of sugar which can show if nasopharyngeal cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or elsewhere in the body.

PRINT
All the information in this section is available in a PDF.

Download it here.
IN THIS SECTION
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
FURTHER INFORMATION
  1. Head and Neck Cancer Australia Resources 
  2. External Links to other Head and Neck Cancer Resources