According to the 2013 statistical report from the Hong Kong Cancer Registry of the Hospital Authority, nasopharyngeal cancer/carcinoma (NPC) is one of the ten most common cancers in Hong Kong. The incidence rate is three times higher for men than women. Studies have shown that 99% of nasopharyngeal tumours (carcinomas) contain the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which also causes glandular fever.
Causes of NPC are still unclear, but the risk factors include:
- Genetics, such as a family history of NPC
- Regular consumption of foods such as salted fish and pickled vegetables
- Having been infected with EBV, which increases the risk by 30 times
Due to the fact that the nasopharynx is located deep inside the head, special medical equipment and techniques must be used to examine it clearly. If you experience the following symptoms or any unusual changes, seek medical attention as soon as possible:
- Nasal congestion, runny nose
- Hearing loss, tinnitus, or pus-like drainage from the ear canal
- Blood-stained sputum
- Headache or persistent migraine, particularly at night
- Facial paralysis or lock jaw (tetanus)
- Hoarseness of voice
- Sudden weight loss, loss of physical strength
- Swelling of lateral neck lymph nodes
Screening and Diagnosis
NPC examinations and diagnosis:
- EBV antibody blood test
- Test for concentration of EBV DNA in the blood
- Biopsy test: extraction of tissue at the suspected location
Examinations to determine the degree of metastasis and stage of cancer:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): determines tumour location, size, and area
- Positron emission tomography and computerized tomography (PET-CT) scan: examines the degree of tumour metastasis
Radiation therapy is the main method of treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer/carcinoma, while chemotherapy and targeted therapy are used as adjuvant therapies. In some special cases, such as in the case of early tumour recurrence, doctors may recommend removing the tumour via surgery.
Radiation Therapy (radiotherapy, electrotherapy)
Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. The course takes about six to eight weeks. New radiation therapy systems such as TomoTherapy, a high-speed helical radiation therapy system, minimize exposure of energy to normal tissues, reducing the development of possible side effects.
Chemotherapy and Targeted Therapy
Chemotherapy is treatment with drugs to destroy cancer cells in an effort to shrink the tumours or control their growth. Targeted therapy employs molecular biology techniques that focus on the mechanisms by which cancer cells mutate, proliferate, and spread to inhibit their ability to grow and repair.
Doctors may recommend chemotherapy or targeted therapy before radiation therapy to achieve the best treatment results. If the cancer has spread, chemotherapy can also help relieve some of the symptoms and discomfort.