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What Is the Nasopharynx?

The nasopharynx is at the top of the throat, or pharynx.
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  • Written By: Claudette M. Pendleton
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2014
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The nasopharynx mainly relates to two words, nasal and pharynx. Nasal is a medical term for nose, and pharynx is another name for the throat. The masopharynx is located in the rear part of the nose and the top portion of the throat. The nasal passages are connected to the throat by the nasopharynx, as are the Eustachian tubes, which connect to the middle ear. It is the only part of the throat that always stays open.

In addition to the nasopharynx, there are two other components that make up the pharynx: the oropharynx and the hypopharynx. The oropharynx is positioned at the rear of the mouth and unites the top of the throat and the mouth. The hypopharynx, also referred to as the laryngopharynx, is the part of the throat that joins to the esophagus.

The nasopharynx can be seen when the mouth is opened wide. It is located above the soft palate, the supple region located in the far back region of the throat, at the roof of the mouth. The uvula is the part that hangs at the back of the throat and it can also be seen in a mirror.

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Sometimes cancer can develop in the nasopharynx. When cancer occurs in this area, it is referred to as nasopharyngeal cancer or nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC). These cancers develop in the top portion of the throat, and may affect a person's nasal passages and the upper respiratory area, as well as a person's hearing. Other throat cancers can develop in the oropharynx and hypopharynx regions. These are referred to as oropharyngeal cancer and hypopharyngeal cancer, respectively.

A person who suffers from NPC runs the risk of having the cancer spread to his or her lymph nodes. These are tiny glands that are shaped like beans. There are is a significant collection of lymph nodes in the neck.

The lymph nodes are a part of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system consists of immune cells, which are the cells that fight germs in the body. These cells are referred to as lymphocytes. The lymphocytes have a very important function in the body, as they work to guard and protect the body from dangerous bacteria and viruses that try to attack a person's body on a daily basis.

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