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The nasopharynx is a box-like chamber situated in the upper part of the throat (pharynx), behind the nose and near the base of skull. The nasopharynx is surrounded by many structures in the head and neck region, including the nose, paranasal sinuses, eustachian tube as well as cranial nerves that govern sensory and motor functions in the facial and eye areas.


There are also lymph nodes in the neck close to the nasopharynx. Most people with NPC notice lumps or mass in the neck that lead them to see a doctor.


The exact causes of NPC are unknown, however there are a number of well-established risk factors that can increase your risk of developing the condition:


Genetic Factors

Having a first-degree relative, such as a parent, sibling or children who have NPC.


Lifestyle Choices

Frequent consumption of salt-cured and fermented meats, fish and vegetables, which are often found in Cantonese diets. This may also explain the high prevalence of NPC in Southern China and Southeast Asia. In fact, a high consumption of preserved fish has been shown to develop NPC in animal studies.


Exposure to Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)

EBV is a common virus that causes glandular fever. Most people with NPC have evidence of EBV infection in their blood.

Signs and Symptoms

NPC often does not show obvious symptoms in the early stages. However, as the tumour progresses, these signs and symptoms may become more apparent:


  • Blocked nostrils, nose bleeds, coughing up blood
  • Hearing loss, ringing in the ears, discharge
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Persisting headaches that worsen throughout the day
  • Facial numbness, double vision, hoarse voice, swallowing difficulties
  • Jaw stiffness, unexplained weight loss

Should any of the above symptoms emerge, especially if they persist over two weeks, please consult your doctor immediately.

Screen and Diagnosis

Blood Samples

To detect EBV antibodies in serum


A flexible optical instrument is used to examine the inside of your nose (nasopharynx), throat (pharynx) and voice box (larynx).


A small tissue sample is removed from your nose to be examined microscopically in a laboratory.

Imaging Study

Such as Computed tomography (CT), Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Positron emission tomography (PET scan)


Radiotherapy on its own is often the first choice of treatment in NPC. It can treat most people with early stage NPC. Common treatment approaches for NPC include:


Blood Samples





Unfortunately, NPC treatment may also affect healthy structures neighbouring the nasopharynx, including the eyes, ears and teeth. You may need special assistance adjusting to the side effects of NPC treatment, including support from speech therapists, dietitians and audiologists.


There are no surefire methods to prevent NPC. You can consider avoiding habits that have been associated with the disease. A well-balanced diet and healthy lifestyle can reduce the chances of getting this condition:


  • Avoid eating preserved and fermented foods
  • Minimise exposure to carcinogenic substances, including active and secondary tobacco smoke, burning incense sticks, formaldehyde, wood dust
  • Regular check-ups: those who have a family history of NPC and are at risk of developing the condition should consider NPC screening

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