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What is the nasopharynx ?

The nasopharynx is made up of the upper part of the pharynx (throat) behind the nose. The pharynx is a hollow tube that begins behind the nose and ends at the top of the trachea (windpipe) and esophagus (tube that goes from the throat to the stomach). The nostrils lead into the nasopharynx, while an opening on each side of the nasopharynx leads into each ear via the Eustachian tubes.

What is nasopharyngeal cancer ?

Nasopharyngeal cancer occurs when malignant (cancerous) cells form in the tissues of the nasopharynx. Cancer is the uncontrollable growth of cells that invade and cause damage to surrounding tissue. In most cases, nasopharyngeal cancer begins in the thin, flat cells (squamous cells) that line the oropharynx (the part of the throat behind the mouth).

What are the risk factors for the development of Nasopharyngeal cancer ?

In many cases, nasopharyngeal cancer occurs during adolescence. This type of cancer affects more males than females

Other risk factors include : -
  • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) : - This common virus, which remains dormant (inactive) in most people, has been linked to cancers including nasopharyngeal cancer.
  • Genetic factors : - Recent studies have found that people with certain inherited tissue types are at increased risk of developing nasopharyngeal cancer.

What are the symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer ?

The following symptoms might be potential symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer : -
  • Difficulty hearing, breathing, or speaking
  • Sore throat, recurrent nosebleed
  • Pain or ringing in the ear
  • Headaches
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What are the stages of nasopharyngeal cancer ?

  • Stage 0 : - In this stage of nasopharyngeal cancer, cancer is found only in the lining of the nasopharynx.
  • Stage I : - Cancer is contained within the nasopharynx only.
  • Stage II : - Cancer is divided into Stage IIA and Stage IIB. In Stage IIA, cancer has spread from the nasopharynx to the oropharynx (the middle part of the throat that includes the soft palate) and/or to the nasal cavity. In stage IIB, one of two situations might occur: The cancer is found in the nasopharynx and has spread to the lymph nodes in one side of the neck, or has spread to the area surrounding the nasopharynx and might have spread to lymph nodes on one side of the neck.
  • Stage III : - In this stage, the cancer : -
    • Is found in the nasopharynx and has spread to lymph nodes on both sides of the neck
    • Has spread into the soft tissues (oropharynx and/or nasal cavity) and to lymph nodes on both sides of the neck
    • Has spread beyond the soft tissues into areas around the pharynx and to lymph nodes on both sides of the neck
    • Has spread to nearby bones or sinuses and might have spread to lymph nodes on one or both sides of the neck
  • Stage IV : - Cancer is divided into Stage IVA, Stage IVB, and Stage IVC as follows : -
    • Stage IVA : - The cancer has spread beyond the nasopharynx and might have spread to the cranial nerves, the hypopharynx (bottom part of the throat), areas in and around the side of the skull or jawbone, and/or the bone around the eye. Cancer might also have spread to lymph nodes on one or both sides of the neck, and the involved lymph nodes are smaller than 6 centimeters.
    • Stage IVB : - This stage of cancer has spread to lymph nodes above the collarbone, and/or the involved lymph nodes are larger than 6 centimeters.
    • Stage IVC : - The cancer has spread beyond nearby lymph nodes to other parts of the body.
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How is nasopharyngeal cancer diagnosed ?

Doctors might use various tests to diagnose nasopharyngeal cancer.

  • Physical exam of the throat : - This exam might involve palpation (feeling) of the neck and looking down the throat.
  • Nasoscopy : - During this procedure, a doctor will use a nasoscope (thin lighted tube) to look inside the nose. The doctor might take tissue samples for a biopsy.
  • Biopsy : - This procedure involves the removal of tissue so it can be viewed under a microscope to check for cancer.
  • Neurological exam : - This exam might be made up of questions and tests to check the brain, spinal cord, and body's nerve function.
  • Head and chest X-rays : - These might include an X-ray of the skull, as well as the organs and bones in the chest.
  • Laboratory tests : - These procedures might test samples of blood, urine, tissue, or other substances.
  • CT or CAT scan (also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography) : - This as a scan that involves taking a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The images are created by a computer linked to an X-ray machine.
  • MRI (also called magnetic resonance imaging) : - This is a procedure during which radio waves and a powerful magnet linked to a computer are used to create detailed pictures of areas inside the body.

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