Nasopharyngeal cancer

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What is nasopharyngeal cancer?

Nasopharyngeal cancer is a malignant tumour that starts in the cells of the nasopharynx. Malignant means that it can spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body.

The nasopharynx is part of the pharynx, or the throat. The pharynx is part of the digestive and respiratory systems. It is divided into 3 parts. The nasopharynx is the top part of the pharynx, located behind the nose. The oropharynx is the middle part of the pharynx. The hypopharynx is the bottom part of the pharynx.

Cells in the nasopharynx sometimes change and no longer grow or behave normally. These changes may lead to benign conditions such as mucocele. They can also lead to benign tumours such as angiofibroma or hemangioma. Benign conditions and tumours are not cancerous. But in some cases, changes to cells in the nasopharynx can cause cancer.

Most often, nasopharyngeal cancer starts in the cells that line the inside of the nasopharynx. This type of cancer is called nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

Rare types of nasopharyngeal cancer can also develop. These include nasopharyngeal papillary adenocarcinoma and minor salivary gland carcinoma.

Nasopharyngeal cancer is uncommon in Canada. It is usually seen in Inuit and people of Southeast Asian and Chinese ancestry.

Diagram of location of the pharynx


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