Why Choose Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital for Nasopharyngeal Cancer Treatment?
Since 1969, our hospital has been providing quality healthcare to the community of Los Angeles, and our skillful and experienced medical professionals will offer you the treatment you need for nasopharyngeal cancer in a warm and compassionate environment, as we place great emphasis on the comfort and well-being of our patients. We have state-of-the-art diagnostic techniques under which we can assign you a correct and accurate diagnosis, which will be followed by a personalized treatment plan for your nasopharyngeal cancer.
The nasopharynx is the space connecting the nose to the back of the mouth that allows people to breathe through their nose. It is a portion of the pharynx, the hollow tube inside the neck that starts behind the nose and ends at the top of the windpipe, medically known as the trachea.
Since cancer can develop in nearly all parts of the body, the nasopharynx is no exception. When malignant tumors begin growing on this part of the pharynx, nasopharyngeal cancer is diagnosed. It is an uncommon type of head and neck cancer. Accordingly, in the United States, less than 1 in 100,000 people receive a diagnosis of nasopharyngeal cancer every year. Instead, nasopharyngeal cancer is most common in other parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia.
This malignant disease is difficult to find in the early stages, as the nasopharynx is challenging to examine due to its position inside the body. Furthermore, the symptoms of this cancer often mimic those of more common health problems, which may delay the moment of diagnosis.
The treatment you will receive for nasopharyngeal cancer will depend on the size of the tumor, the tumor's location, whether cancer has spread to nearby areas of the body, your general health, your age, and your preferences. However, chemotherapy is often involved in the treatment of nasopharyngeal cancer, as it is very effective in destroying malignant cells and keeping the disease under control. You may receive chemotherapy for nasopharyngeal cancer in the following situations:
- at the same time as radiotherapy: when chemotherapy is used in conjunction with radiotherapy, the former improves the effectiveness of the latter, and this treatment is known as concomitant therapy or chemoradiation
- chemotherapy after radiotherapy: you may be recommended to undergo chemotherapy after you had radiotherapy sessions, whose purpose, in this case, is to destroy as many malignant cells that remained in your body as possible
- chemotherapy before radiotherapy: chemotherapy given before radiotherapy or before concomitant therapy is known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy
Radiotherapy is another effective treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer. It entails receiving high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays or protons, to destroy malignant cells. For nasopharyngeal cancer, radiotherapy is usually administered in a procedure known as external beam radiation.
During this procedure, you will be positioned on a table. A large machine will be maneuvered around you, directing radiation to the precise spot where it can target your cancer. In patients with early stages of nasopharyngeal cancer, radiotherapy may be the only treatment they need to keep their malignant disease under control or entirely cure it.
Lastly, a type of internal radiation therapy, known as brachytherapy, may be used for recurrent nasopharyngeal cancer. This treatment implies radioactive seeds or wires being positioned in the tumor or very close to it.
Finally, some patients with nasopharyngeal cancer may need surgery for this disease, although this is rarely the case. In general, for people with this cancer, surgery is used to remove the lymph nodes in the neck to which cancer has spread. Nevertheless, some cases may require surgery to remove a malignant tumor from the nasopharynx. This requires the surgeon to make a small incision in the roof of your mouth to allow them to reach the damaged area and subsequently remove the malignant tumor.
According to the World Health Organization, there are 3 types of nasopharyngeal cancer, namely:
- keratinizing squamous cell carcinoma
- nonkeratinizing squamous cell carcinoma
- undifferentiated or poorly differentiated carcinoma
Symptoms of Nasopharyngeal Cancer
The first symptom a person with nasopharyngeal cancer experiences is usually a lump in the upper back of the neck. They will subsequently experience some of the following symptoms:
It is worthy of note that some people with nasopharyngeal cancer do not experience any symptoms, regardless of the stage of their malignant disease.
Diagnosis of Nasopharyngeal Cancer
The diagnostic process of nasopharyngeal cancer usually begins with your doctor asking you about the symptoms you are experiencing. Subsequently, they will conduct a physical exam to see whether there is a lump in the upper back of the neck. They will eventually order a series of tests and exams to assign you a correct and precise diagnosis, such as:
- orthopantomography: a panoramic X-ray of the upper and lower jaw displaying a view from ear to ear. It helps your doctor determine whether there is a tumor in your jaw bone
- CT scan: during computed tomography, your physician is provided with clear and detailed images from the inside of your body, which will help them see whether you have a tumor on the nasopharynx
- MRI scan: magnetic resonance imaging is a test using powerful magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of the inside of the body, instrumental in determining whether you have a tumor on your nasopharynx
- PET scan: during positron emission tomography, a small amount of radioactive glucose is injected into one of your veins, and the scanner will make clear pictures of the areas inside your body, which will help your doctor see whether there is a tumor on your nasopharynx
While the precise cause of nasopharyngeal cancer has not yet been found by medical researchers, some factors increase your risk of developing this malignant disease, such as:
- sex: nasopharyngeal cancer is significantly more common in men than in women
- race: nasopharyngeal cancer tends to occur mostly in people from parts of China, Southeast Asia, and North Africa
- age: while the disease can occur at any age, it is more common in people between the ages of 30 and 50
- salt-cured foods: the chemicals that are released in steam when cooking salt-cured foods, such as fish and preserved vegetables, may reach the nasal cavity, thereby increasing the risk of developing nasopharyngeal cancer
- Epstein-Barr virus: the presence of the virus that causes mononucleosis has been found to have a connection with nasopharyngeal cancer
- family history: if you have a close family member with nasopharyngeal cancer, your chances of developing it are higher
- alcohol and tobacco: heavy alcohol consumption and smoking tobacco may trigger the onset of nasopharyngeal cancer since they act as irritants to the tissue of the nasopharynx
While there is no known way to prevent the occurrence of nasopharyngeal cancer, you can lower your chances of developing it by avoiding salt-cured foods, as well as by limiting your alcohol consumption and by quitting smoking if you are a smoker.