What Is the Survival Rate of Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma?

Reviewed on 3/16/2022

Illustration of nasopharyngeal cancer
The five-year survival rates (many people will be alive five years after diagnosis) for nasopharyngeal cancer are 82% for localized cancer, 73% for regional cancer, and 48% for distant cancer.

Nasopharyngeal cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that occurs when cells in the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat behind the nose and near the base of the skull, grow out of control.

Most nasopharyngeal cancers are nasopharyngeal carcinoma. There are three types of nasopharyngeal cancer

  • Non-keratinizing undifferentiated carcinoma (the most common type in the U.S.)
  • Non-keratinizing differentiated carcinoma
  • Keratinizing squamous cell carcinoma

Life expectancy for nasopharyngeal cancer is often expressed in five-year survival rates, that is, how many people will be alive five years after diagnosis. The survival rates for nasopharyngeal cancer are listed in the table below.

Nasopharyngeal Cancer Five-Year Survival Rates Chart
Cancer Type Characteristics Survival Rate
Localized No sign cancer has spread outside the nasopharynx 82%
Regional Cancer has spread outside the nasopharynx to nearby structures or lymph nodes 73%
Distant Cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, such as the lungs or liver 48%

What Are Symptoms of Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma?

Symptoms of nasopharyngeal carcinoma include: 

  • A lump or mass in the neck 
  • Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
  • Ear pain
  • Feeling of fullness in the ear (especially on one side only)
  • Recurrent ear infections (more common in children)
  • Hearing loss
  • Nasal blockage or stuffiness
  • Nosebleeds
  • Facial pain or numbness
  • Headaches
  • Trouble opening the mouth
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Difficulty breathing or talking

What Causes Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma?

The cause of most cases of nasopharyngeal carcinoma is unknown. 

Risk factors for developing nasopharyngeal carcinoma include: 

  • Gender
    • Occurs about twice as often in males as in females
  • Ethnicity and where you live
    • Most common in southern China (including Hong Kong), Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Northwest Canada, and Greenland
    • In the U.S., it is most common in Asian and Pacific Islanders (particularly Chinese Americans), Native American and Alaskan natives, African Americans, whites, and Hispanics/Latinos
  • Diet
    • Diets very high in salt-cured fish and meat 
    • This diet is common in areas where the cancer is more prevalent
  • Family history
  • Smoking
  • Infection with Epstein-Barr virus
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Workplace exposure to formaldehyde (possible; link is not clear)

How Is Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma Diagnosed?

In addition to a medical examination and patient history, tests used to diagnose nasopharyngeal carcinoma include:

  • Biopsy
  • Imaging tests
  • Blood tests
    • Complete blood counts (CBC
    • Blood chemistry 
    • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) DNA levels


Skin Cancer Symptoms, Types, Images See Slideshow

What Is the Treatment for Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma?

Treatment for nasopharyngeal carcinoma includes:

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Reviewed on 3/16/2022
Image Source: iStock Images