How Nasopharyngeal Cancer Is Diagnosed
Your doctor or nurse will examine you. This includes a detailed look at your ears, nose, and throat. You may be sent to a doctor that specializes in these areas, called an otolaryngologist.
The doctor or nurse will also feel your neck. Most patients with nasopharyngeal cancer have a lump in the neck. This is a sign that the cancer is spreading to the lymph nodes.
Small mirrors and lights or a flexible, lighted tube may be placed through your mouth or nose to help the doctor better view the nasopharynx. This is called a nasopharyngoscopy. It helps the doctor check the area for abnormal growths, bleeding, or other problems.
If the exam is abnormal, your doctor may recommend a biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of a small amount of tissue for examination under a microscope.
A biopsy may be taken during the nasopharyngoscopy. If there is a lump in your neck, the biopsy may be done by placing a very thin, hollow needle into the lump.
Imaging tests can help spot nasopharyngeal cancer or determine if it has spread. Imaging tests may include:
- Chest X-ray
- CT scan
- Ultrasound of the neck
The following tests may also be done to confirm or rule out cancer:
- Complete blood count (CBC) and other blood tests
- EBV testing
If you are diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer, other tests will be done to determine if and where the cancer has spread. This is called staging.
There are four stages of nasopharyngeal cancer. The lower the number, the less the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
- Stage 1 is called early stage nasopharyngeal cancer.
- Stage 2 is called intermediate-stage nasopharyngeal cancer.
- Stages 3 and 4 are called advanced or late-stage nasopharyngeal cancer.
- If nasopharyngeal cancer returns, it is called recurrent cancer.
Nasopharyngeal Cancer Treatment
If you are diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer, you will need regular follow-ups with your medical team before, during, and after treatment.
Your treatment will depend on many things, including:
- Location of the tumor
- Stage of the tumor
- Your overall health
Treatment may include:
Radiation Therapy. Radiation therapy uses X-rays to kill cancer cells and stop them from growing. It is the standard treatment for early stage nasopharyngeal cancer.
One type called IMRT delivers high-dose radiation directly to the tumor, while minimizing damage to nearby healthy tissue. It may cause fewer side effects or complications than conventional radiation treatment to the nasopharynx, which can lead to:
- dry mouth
- inflammation of the lining of your mouth and throat
- brain stem injury
- death of healthy tissue
Surgery. Surgery can cure nasopharyngeal cancer if all of the tumor and cancer cells are removed. But the surgery can be difficult because of the tumor's location near the skull. It may cause permanent damage to the eye and other nearby structures.