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Nasopharyngeal Cancer- Diagnosis& Treatment Options

Nasopharyngeal cancer also referred to as NPC, is a rare condition that affects the head and neck. It originates in the nasopharynx, which is located at the back of the nose. Nasopharyngeal cancer is a tumor that presents with many signs and symptoms. These can be nosebleeding, enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, difficulties in breathing and more. However, these may be confused with other common signs of non-severe infections, making the condition difficult to diagnose.

There are multiple diagnostic tests, though! The Take2 Health medical staff can help detect such tumors early, ensuring prompt treatment and management of the condition.

How is nasopharyngeal cancer diagnosed?

NPC is first diagnosed through physical examination. The doctor will check your throat, mouth and ears. They may use a small mirror to examine your nasopharynx or a thin tube to check the back of your nose. In most cases, such a procedure uses local anaesthesia to numb parts of your nose and throat.

If the doctor suspects a tumor, a biopsy will be necessary. This is performed at the doctor’s office and uses a miniature endoscope which aids in visualizing the tumor and its extent. The procedure classifies cancer according to the type of cell. This requires specialized equipment, and most doctors send the samples to the Take2 Health team. And this is because the professionals use exclusive methods and technologies in NPC detection.

The main types of nasopharyngeal cancer are;

Keratinizing squamous cell carcinoma

Undifferentiated carcinoma

Non-keratinizing squamous cell carcinoma

There’s more! The doctor may require other tests for a more accurate diagnosis. These may include blood tests, imaging studies, MRI scans and PET scans.

Blood tests are also common. A nasopharyngeal cancer blood test service by renowned providers will help identify the extent of the spread. It also unearths any nutritional problems like anaemia. Similarly, imaging studies determine whether the tumor has spread to nearby tissues and other body organs. These can be X-rays or CT scans that provide accurate images of parts of your inner mouth and neck.

MRI tests and PET scans are also handy. The MRI test provides clearer and detailed images of your inside mouth. A PET scan, on the other hand, uses a small amount of radioactive sugar, which is injected into a vein. It then makes computerized images of your inner body parts and highlights the tumor in the pictures.

What are the available treatment options?

Many nasopharynx cancers can get cured if discovered early enough. There are multiple treatment options for NPC. However, this depends on the type of nasopharyngeal cancer and its extent. Nonetheless, the standard methods include;

  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Surgery
  1. Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is the main treatment option for NPC because such cancers are sensitive to radiation. It employs high-energy X-rays or particles to destroy or kill cancerous cells. It also hinders their growth by slowing down the growth process.

Different stages of NPC react differently to treatment. For instance, the primary nasopharyngeal carcinoma, the initial diagnosis, responds very well to radiation therapy. Chemotherapy may also be combined with this procedure, depending on the size and extent of the tumor.

However, surgery is only a viable option when the tumor recurs after chemoradiation therapy. Nowadays, there are more advanced types of radiation therapy. For instance, intensity-modulated radiation therapy uses more effective radiation doses but with minimal side effects than traditional radiotherapy techniques.

  1. Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to treat cancer. The medications are often administered through the vein or mouth. The medication enters your bloodstream and travels to your body parts, making this option effective for cancers that have already spread beyond the neck. For NPC, chemotherapy is mainly combined with radiation therapy as the first treatment for advanced stages of the condition.

Chemotherapy is prescribed after surgery to minimize the risk of recurrence of the cancer. It’s also useful in slowing down tumor growth and controlling cancer symptoms when the cancer can’t be cured.

The common drugs for treating NPC that has spread to other parts of the body are;

  • Carboplatin
  • Gemcitabine
  • Bleomycin
  • Methotrexate
  • Doxorubicin
  • Epirubicin
  • Paclitaxel
  • Docetaxel
  1. Surgery               

Surgery is yet another treatment option. For small tumors, the doctor may perform transoral laser microsurgery. However, anaesthesia is administered before the insertion of the laser in your mouth. The laser’s beam excises the tumor and tiny bits of the surrounding tissue.

After the surgery, you won’t eat solid food until the surgical wound heals. Therefore, the doctor will insert a small nasogastric tube through your nostrils. This will facilitate feeding, and you will only take liquid food through the tube until the surgery area heals.

How long will it take to heal? This takes about two weeks, but you can leave the hospital three to five days after the surgery.

For more extensive tumors, you require an incision with a scalpel, which is performed under anaesthesia. The procedure entails an incision on your neck and under your chin to remove the tumor. Later on, the surgeon will reconstruct the open area using a flap of skin from the arms or other parts of your body.

How can I prevent NPC?

There are risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing NPC. Although you can change your genetics, there are some behaviors and lifestyle choices that you can modify to decrease your risk. The two main substances that advance your risk of NPC are tobacco and alcohol. Tobacco use includes cigarettes, pipes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and snuff.

Limiting their consumption can drastically lower your risk of such cancers. Your diet also matters; avoid consuming highly salty foods or salt-cured meats and fish. They can enhance your risk of developing NPC. Other risk factors include age, gender, and exposure to EBV.

A quick wrap up

Nasopharyngeal cancer affects both men and women but is more common in men. It presents with multiple symptoms, and the doctor will perform various tests that examine your mouth and neck. This will help determine the stage of cancer and the most suitable treatment option. If you show the signs mentioned above, consult your doctor as early as possible. Early detection is critical when it comes to cancer treatment.

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