Nasopharyngeal (say: "nay-zo-fair-in-gee-al") cancer is a malignant tumor that develops in the nasopharynx (say: "nay-zo-fair-inks"). The nasopharynx is the area where the back part of your nose opens into your upper throat. This is also where tubes from your ears open into your throat.

Who might get nasopharyngeal cancer?

You are most likely to get this cancer if you or your ancestors come from southern China, particularly Canton (now called Guangzhou) or Hong Kong. You are also more likely to get this cancer if you are from a country in Southeast Asia, like Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia or Thailand.

What causes nasopharyngeal cancer?

No one knows for sure what causes nasopharyngeal cancer. Eating salt-preserved foods (like fish, eggs, leafy vegetables and roots) during early childhood may increase the risk of getting this form of cancer. The Epstein-Barr virus may also make a person more likely to get nasopharyngeal cancer. This is the same virus that causes infectious mononucleosis (also called "mono"). You may also have a higher risk of getting nasopharyngeal cancer if someone else in your family has had it.

How is nasopharyngeal cancer treated?

Radiation is quite successful in treating cancer in the nasopharynx. You might also need to have chemotherapy (medicines used to treat cancer). Radiation and chemotherapy can make you feel tired and sick to your stomach. You might also have headaches for a while after radiation treatment.

Many people with nasopharyngeal cancer can live normal lives. You are more likely to be cured if you find it early and the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.