A rare type of head and neck cancer, when abnormal cells form a tumor in nasopharynx, is called nasopharyngeal cancer. It starts in the upper part of the throat, behind the nose. Even though, doctors are not sure about the nasopharyngeal cancer causes, it has been strongly linked to the Epstein-Barr virus. Nasopharyngeal cancer symptoms include lump in neck, blurry vision, face pain, etc. Nasopharyngeal cancer treatment choice depends on the location and stage of cancer, as well as on overall health of the patient. More detailed information about this condition, its symptoms, diagnostic services and nasopharyngeal cancer treatment options, is presented below.
The upper part of the throat (pharynx) behind the nose is called nasopharynx. The throat is a hollow tube that is about 5 inches long and begins behind the nose and ends at the top of the windpipe and oesophagus.
When food and air make their way to your windpipe and oesophagus, they pass through your throat. Your nostrils lead into nasopharynx, there is also an opening on both sides of the nasopharynx that lead into either ear. Nasopharyngeal cancer most commonly occurs in the squamous cells in the part of your throat behind your mouth (oropharynx).
WHAT IS NASOPHARYNGEAL CANCER?
Nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC), also commonly known as nose cancer happens when the cells in the area behind the nasal cavity and above the back of the throat (nasopharynx) turn cancerous. Due to the unique features, nose cancer is normally distinguished from other head and neck cancers.
NASOPHARYNGEAL CANCER SYMPTOMS AND SIGNS
- Sputum containing blood
- Nose bleed or nasal obstruction
- Ear problems (ear blocks, ringing, hearing impairment)
- Enlarged lymph nodes that cause swelling in the neck
- Cranial nerve problems (eye lid drooping, double vision, facial numbness)
- Common advanced disease symptoms (weight loss, fatigue, bone pain)
NASOPHARYNGEAL CANCER TREATMENT OPTIONS
The treatments available for treating nose cancer are as follows:
Early stage nose cancer is treated by radiotherapy. A radiation oncologist and his team will plan your radiation therapy. The treatment is administered to the area that covers the region around your nasopharynx and from your neck to your collarbone. Temporary side effects from the treatment include:
- Peeling of the skin (neck and cheek area)
- Dryness of mouth
- Mouth ulcers
- Loss of appetite
This is sometimes used as part of the treatment. The drugs used in chemotherapy are used to kill cancer cells when it has spread to other areas of your body such as your lungs, liver and bones. Chemotherapy drugs are injected into your hand veins.
Chemotherapy may also be combined with radiation therapy to increase the efficiency of radiation therapy. Surgery is not commonly performed due to the location of the cancer.
In some cases, surgery may be required to remove persistent lumps or recurrences in the neck after radiotherapy.
When there is a recurrence in the nasopharynx despite radiotherapy and the cancer has not spread to other areas of the body, surgery may be considered.
DIAGNOSING NASOPHARYNGEAL CANCER
- History taking and physical examination: Your doctor will ask you questions about your overall health, symptoms you have and family medical history, as those, who have a family history of cancers are assumed to be more predisposed to have the same condition. Then your doctor will perform a physical examination of your body to look for any visible symptoms. Your doctor will feel the neck for swollen lymph nodes during the examination and a small long-handled mirror will be inserted down your throat to check for abnormal areas.
- Nasoscopy: A nasoscope is inserted into the nose to check for any abnormalities. A nasoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and lens for viewing the inside of your nose. It may also consist of a tool to remove tissue samples which will be sent for histology.
- Neurological exam: The brain, spinal cord and nerve functions are checked by tests and you will be asked a series of questions. The examination checks your mental status, coordination, the ability to walk normally, how well the muscles, senses and reflexes work. This examination is also known as a neuro exam or a neurological exam.
- Head and chest X-rays: An X-ray produces images of the inside of your body using a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film. This procedure will take X-ray images of your skull, organs and bones in your chest.
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): This procedure is also known as nuclear magnetic resonance im aging (NMRI). It uses a magnet, radio waves and a computer to take a series of detailed images of areas in the body.
- CT scan (Computerized Tomography): Also known as computed tomography or computerized axial tomography. This procedure takes a series of detailed images of areas inside your body from different angles. The X-ray machine is linked to a computer so that the images are displayed on the screen. A dye may be injected into your vein or swallowed to help the organs show up clearer on the screen.
- PET scan (Positron Emission Tomography scan): A small dose of radioactive glucose (sugar solution) is injected into your vein during this procedure in order to find malignant tumor cells in your body. The scanner rotates around your body to make images of where glucose is being used in the body. The cancerous cells appear brighter in the image because they are more active and absorb more glucose than normal cells. It may be used to find nasopharyngeal cancer that has spread to the bone.
- Laboratory tests: Samples of tissue, blood, urine or other substances in the body are tested using medical procedures to help diagnose diseases, plan and check treatment or monitor the disease over time
- Biopsy: Samples of cells or tissues are removed so that they can be examined under a microscope by a pathologist to check for cancer.