What are the Different Types of Nasopharyngeal Cancer?

P.S. Jones

Living tissue cells replicate and grow as a part of their life cycle. When these cells begin to show uncontrolled growth, and invade other tissues or areas of the body, they are considered a cancer. Nasopharyngeal cancer is characterized by this unchecked cell growth in the nasopharynx, which is the area of the body where the throat, nose, and mouth meet. There are several types of nasopharyngeal cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma, cystic carcinoma, as well as lymphomas and melanomas.

Symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer include swollen lymph nodes.
Symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer include swollen lymph nodes.

Nearly all types of nasopharyngeal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, meaning that they occur in flat, skin like cells that line the nasal and mouth cavities. Symptoms include ringing in hears or random nose bleeds. A horse voice is another symptom. Most of these symptoms are are easily attributed to other minor conditions, so diagnosing squamous cell nasopharyngeal cancer can be easily overlooked. Treatment is usually done through extensive surgery or radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy, such as with a linear accelerator, might be used to help treat nasopharyngeal cancer.
Radiotherapy, such as with a linear accelerator, might be used to help treat nasopharyngeal cancer.

If a nasopharyngeal cancer is a lymphoma, it began in the lymph nodes or tissue. The lymph nodes are an important part of the lymphatic systems, and necessary to the proper function of the patient’s immune system. Symptoms include swollen lymph nodes that don’t cause any pain to the patient. Often, this type of cancer is not diagnosed until the tumor has grown considerably. Treating lymphomas is a particularly delicate process, because the patient will experience decreased functioning of their immune system.

Melanomas are cancers that occur in the skin cells that give human skin its color. Melanomas are most often associated with skin cancer, but nasopharyngeal cancer melanomas can occur too. They can develop on the skin either on the outside or the inside of the nose and mouth. Symptoms include irregular shaped, odd colored growths on the skin that do not cause any pain in most cases. Those that occur on skin inside these cavities can be particularly hard to diagnose because those cells are not visible to the naked eye.

Adenocarcionoma and adenoid cystic carcinoma are particularly rare types of nasopharyngeal cancer that develop in the nasal or oral cavities. In most cases, they form on the salivary glands inside the mouth. Treatment will usually be surgical, with radiotherapy following. Sarcoma is another rare type of nasopharyngeal cancer that occurs in the connective tissues, including bone, cartilage and fat. Radiation therapy is recommended for treatment of this type of nasopharyngeal cancer with surgery as a last resort.

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Discussion Comments


I'm in remission after a diagnosis of advanced nasopharyngeal cancer two years ago. I think it's really scary, especially for women, when treatment can cause disfigurement of any kind. My scars are fairly faded now and makeup helps.


My mom has nasopharyngeal cancer and underwent radiation treatment. It was really horrible. She's very thin naturally and the radiation caused extensive damage. Now the doctors are recommending surgery. Has anyone gone through this?

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