Nasopharynx (Nose) Cancer - Symptoms & Causes

What is nasopharynx (nose) cancer?

Nasopharynx or nasopharyngeal cancer, commonly known as nose cancer, is an abnormal growth of tissue in the nasopharynx, the area behind the nose just above the mouth and throat.

This abnormal growth is called a tumour that develops when the cells in the nasopharynx divide uncontrollably and produce extra tissue.

Nasopharynx cancer can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). In Singapore, it is the 6th most common head and neck cancer in men.

What are the symptoms of nasopharynx (nose) cancer?

The symptoms of nose cancer include:

  • Blocked nose and stuffiness
  • Blood-stained sputum (phlegm) from the nose and throat
  • Blurry vision
  • Difficulty speaking or breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Earache or ear discharge
  • Tiredness
  • Hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ear), usually affecting only one side
  • Hoarse voice
  • Lumps in the neck or on the nose
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Recurring headaches
  • Recurring nosebleeds
  • Unexplained weight loss

What causes nasopharynx (nose) cancer?

The exact causes of nose cancer are unclear. However, there are several risk factors that can increase the chances of developing the condition.

What are the risk factors for nasopharynx (nose) cancer?

There are several risk factors that can increase the chances of developing nose cancer:

  • Tobacco smoking
  • An Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection – This usually results in mild symptoms such as fever and sore throat. It has been linked to nose cancer as the virus has been found in nearly all nose cancer cells. However, an EBV infection on its own is not enough to cause nose cancer.
  • Ethnicity and gender – Chinese (especially Cantonese) and men aged 20 – 50 years are more likely to develop nose cancer.
  • Certain dietary habits – Nose cancer is common in Asia, North Africa and the Arctic, where people are known for consuming diets high in salt, cured fish and meat.
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