What is Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Cancer starts when healthy cells in the body change and grow uncontrollably, forming a mass or growth of tissue called a tumour. A tumour can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumour is malignant, meaning it can grow and spread to other body parts. A benign tumour remains confined to its original location.

About Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Nasopharyngeal cancer is a rare type of head and neck cancer. In other words, nasopharyngeal carcinoma or NPC.

NPC is a disease of the nasopharynx, the air passage between the nose and the throat and the lungs. It is present behind the nasal cavity and above the mouth’s soft palate. An opening on either side of the nasopharynx, known as the Eustachian tube, leads into the middle ear on each side.

The nasopharynx contains several types of tissue. Each tissue type includes various kinds of cells, and different cancers can develop from each type of cell. For instance, many types of NPC have white blood cells called lymphocytes. Therefore, the cancer is named after these lymphocytes and is known as lymphoepithelioma. The cell involved and other factors are important because they determine the seriousness of cancer and the type of treatment needed.

Subtypes of Nasopharyngeal Cancer

According to the World Health Organization, NPC is classified into three subtypes-

  • Keratinizing squamous cell carcinoma – WHO type 1
  • Nonkeratinizing squamous cell carcinoma – WHO type 2
  • Undifferentiated or poorly differentiated carcinoma, including anaplastic variants and lymphoepithelioma – WHO type 3

Recently, doctors have found that other factors, like the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), can be more important for discovering the seriousness of NPC and how to treat it, which means that the WHO types are being used less in NPC treatment.