Nasopharyngeal cancer (or nasopharyngeal carcinoma) is a type of head and neck cancer that starts in the upper part of the throat (pharynx) behind the nose. The nostrils lead into this area of the throat known as the nasopharynx, which includes openings on each side to the ears.
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Tests and exams performed to detect and diagnose cancer of the nasopharynx may include:
- Direct and indirect nasopharyngoscopy, in which physician inserts a fiber-optic nasopharyngoscope into the nose to view the lining of the nasopharynx (direct); or uses lights and small mirrors to see the nasopharynx (indirect).
- Nasoscopy, in which a physician inserts a nasoscope into the nose to view the inside of the nose for abnormalities.
- Neurological exam to check function of the spinal cord, brain and nerves.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan that can help physicians to determine a tumor’s size and extent. CT scans combine multiple digital images of soft tissues and organs inside the body to provide a more detailed picture than a standard X-ray.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan that uses radio waves and magnets instead of X-rays to provide detailed pictures of the body’s soft tissues and organs.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan that includes an injection of radioactive sugar into the blood, then a digital imaging exam to determine if cancer cells are present. A PET scan is typically performed in conjunction with a CT scan.
- Upper endoscopy, in which an endoscope is inserted through the mouth to look at the interior of the nose, throat and esophagus. An endoscope is a long, thin flexible tube with a lens and light.
- Endoscopic biopsy, in which a small tissue sample is taken through the use of an endoscope with a surgical tool attached to the end.
- Fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy using a thin, hollow needle to remove tissue for testing to determine the cause of an enlarged lymph node in the neck and whether an endoscopic biopsy will be required as part of the diagnosis.
Treatment of nasopharyngeal cancer may include:
Because of their location, surgery is rarely a primary treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer. In some cases, removal of the cancer may be possible through an endoscopic surgical procedure.
Immunotherapy treatment can be provided through use of the drug cetuximab, which is known as a monoclonal antibody.
To enhance the care of people dealing with nasopharyngeal cancer, Scripps Health also offers patient support services.