• Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma Overview

    Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is a rare cancer that arises in the nasal cavity and pharynx (throat). It is uncommon in children under age 10, but the incidence rises between the ages of 10 and 19. These tumors, which are strongly associated with Epstein-Barr virus, can spread to the base of the skull, causing cranial nerve palsy, which can result in the paralysis of facial muscles or difficulty moving the jaw. They can also spread to more distant sites such as the lungs, bones or liver.

    Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma Treatment at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s

    Children with nasopharyngeal carcinoma are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center through our Solid Tumor Center. Continue reading to learn more about nasopharyngeal carcinoma or visit the Rare Tumors Treatment Program homepage to learn about our expertise and treatment options.

    Symptoms & Diagnosis

    The most common symptoms of nasopharyngeal carcinoma include: 

    • Nasal bleeding, obstruction or discharge
    • Ear symptoms, including infection, tinnitus or deafness
    • Headache
    • Neck swelling
    • Neck mass, which is usually painless
    • Facial muscle paralysis

    In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, nasopharyngeal carcinoma is diagnosed with:

    • Blood tests
    • Computerized (CT or CAT) scan, or MRI
    • Biopsy

    After all tests are completed, doctors will be able to outline the best treatment options.

    Treatment & Care

    Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is treated with: 

    • Radiation therapy—the mainstay of treatment for this type of cancer
    • Chemotherapy—especially for advanced cases of disease
    • Surgery is often limited to biopsy since the location of these tumors makes them inoperable.

    Long-term Outlook

    The overall survival of children with nasopharyngeal carcinoma has improved over the last several decades, with survival rates ranging from 55 to 80 percent for children treated with a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Recurrent nasopharyngeal carcinomas are difficult to treat, but the use of innovative cell therapy approaches has shown promising results. 
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