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 infection, tinnitus or deafness
  • headache
  • neck swelling
  • neck mass, which is usually painless
  • facial muscle paralysis

What causes nasopharyngeal carcinoma in children?

It is important to understand that tumors often emerge with no known cause. Many may result from the combined effects of genetic and environmental factors.

Some cancers are caused by inherited conditions. Disorders associated with pheochromocytomas include neurofibromatosis, von Hippel-Lindau disease, multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) syndromes, tuberous sclerosis, Sturge-Weber syndrome, and ataxia-telangiectasia.

Adrenocortical carcinomas are often linked to genetic conditions, most often Li-Fraumeni syndrome. About 50% to 80% of pediatric ACC patients have this syndrome. Other related conditions include MEN1, Lynch syndrome, Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, and hemihypertrophy.

How care for nasopharyngeal carcinoma

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