Nasopharyngeal Cancer

At a Glance

  • Nasopharyngeal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the nasopharynx.
  • Risk factors of nasopharyngeal cancer may include Chinese or Asian ancestry, exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus, drinking large amounts of alcohol
  • Symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer include a lump in the nose or neck, a sore throat, trouble breathing or speaking, nosebleeds, trouble hearing, pain or ringing in the ear, headaches.
  Anatomy The nasopharynx is the upper part of the pharynx (throat) behind the nose. The pharynx is a hollow tube about 5 inches long that starts behind the nose and ends at the top of the trachea (windpipe) and esophagus (the tube that goes from the throat to the stomach). Air and food pass through the pharynx on the way to the trachea or the esophagus. The nostrils lead into the nasopharynx. An opening on each side of the nasopharynx leads into an ear. Nasopharyngeal cancer most commonly starts in the squamous cells that line the nasopharynx.

Risk Factors

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Risk factors of nasopharyngeal cancer may include the following:
  • Chinese or Asian ancestry.
  • Exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus: The Epstein-Barr virus has been associated with certain cancers, including nasopharyngeal cancer and some lymphomas.
  • Drinking large amounts of alcohol


Possible signs of nasopharyngeal cancer include:
  • A lump in the nose or neck.
  • A sore throat.
  • Trouble breathing or speaking.
  • Nosebleeds.
  • Trouble hearing.
  • Pain or ringing in the ear.
  • Headaches.