The nasopharynx cancer is the space within the skull that is above the palate (roof of the mouth) and behind the nose. It communicates at the front with the outside air, via the nostrils, and at the back with the cavity of the mouth and throat (oropharynx).
Cancer of the nasopharynx cancer is rare in the UK more in the Asia area. It occurs when the normal cells that line this area change into malignant cancer cells. The type of cancer, or carcinoma, is classified according to the type of cell that undergoes the malignant change. Of these cancers, 90 per cent are of the squamous cell type. Other types are called nasopharynx cancer, adenoid cystic carcinoma and lymphoma.
Causes of nasopharynx cancer
Nasopharynx cancer is more common in Asia then other parts of the world. Even if these people emigrate to other countries they take this higher risk with them, passing it on to their children who will have a higher risk of developing the disease than the local non-Asia population. Another factor thought to be important in these Asian patients is their high dietary intake of salted fish and preserved food.
A risk factor is previous infection with the Epstein-Barr virus, which is the virus responsible for glandular fever. Patients with cancer of the nasopharynx cancer show high levels of antibody to this virus in their blood, indicating previous infection. However, the exact role of this virus in causing this disease remains unclear but much suggested to be link with food.
Symptoms of Cancer of the Nasopharynx
Despite the nasopharynx cancer being a small confined area at the back of the nasal passages, patients often have advanced disease by the time they are diagnosed. The symptoms also are quite non-specific and are often put down to minor illnesses such as a 'cold'. The commonest symptoms are:
- a blocked nose
- deafness (particularly in one ear only)
- a lump in the neck (a sign of spread of the cancer to the glands in the neck).
Other less common symptoms are:
- problems with swallowing
- double vision
The peak age group affected in Asian patients is in the 30s while in Caucasians it tends to occur in the 50s. Males are twice as likely as females to get this disease.