Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

What is nasopharyngeal carcinoma?

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is a rare cancer that arises in the nasal cavity and pharynx (throat). It is uncommon in children under age 10, but the incidence rises between the ages of 10 and 19. These tumors, which are strongly associated with Epstein-Barr virus, can spread to the base of the skull, causing cranial nerve palsy, which can result in the paralysis of facial muscles or difficulty moving the jaw. They can also spread to more distant sites such as the lungs, bones or liver.

What are the symptoms of nasopharyngeal carcinoma?

The most common symptoms of nasopharyngeal carcinoma include: 

  • nasal bleeding, obstruction or discharge
  • ear symptoms
  • headache
  • neck swelling
  • usually painless neck mass
  • facial muscle paralysis

How are nasopharyngeal carcinomas diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, nasopharyngeal carcinoma is diagnosed with:

After all tests are completed, doctors will be able to outline the best treatment options.

What are the treatment options for nasopharyngeal carcinomas?

Nasopharyngeal carcinomas are typically treated with radiation therapychemotherapy and sometimes surgery. Surgery is often limited to biopsy since the location of these tumors makes them inoperable.

How care for nasopharyngeal carcinoma

Children with nasopharyngeal carcinoma are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center through our Solid Tumor Center. 

What is the long-term outlook for children with nasopharyngeal carcinoma?

The overall survival of children with nasopharyngeal carcinoma has improved over the last several decades, with survival rates ranging from 55 to 80 percent for children treated with a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Recurrent nasopharyngeal carcinomas are difficult to treat, but the use of innovative cell therapy approaches has shown promising results.