Cancerous tumours of the nasopharynx

A cancerous tumour of the nasopharynx can grow into and destroy nearby tissue. It can also spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Cancerous tumours are also called malignant tumours.

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is the most common type of nasopharyngeal cancer. There are 3 main types of NPC. They look different under the microscope but all start in the epithelial cells that line the surface of the nasopharynx.

Non-keratinizing squamous cell carcinoma is linked with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It accounts for 60% of NPC in adults. It is an aggressive cancer that tends to spread quickly to surrounding tissues and lymph nodes.

Keratinizing squamous cell carcinoma is less common than non-keratinizing squamous cell carcinoma. It usually develops in people over the age of 40 and is associated with a history of smoking and drinking alcohol. It is not linked with EBV.

Basaloid squamous cell carcinoma of the nasopharynx is a rare, aggressive type of NPC. It is similar to basaloid squamous cell carcinomas of other areas of the head and neck.

Rare nasopharyngeal tumours

Other types of nasopharyngeal tumour are uncommon.

Nasopharyngeal papillary adenocarcinoma is a low-grade cancer of the nasopharynx. This means that the cancer cells look and act like normal cells and the tumour grows slowly. It grows into the space in the nasopharynxand often blocks the nasal passages.

Minor salivary gland carcinoma is a cancer of the very small salivary glands in the lining of the nasopharynx.

Sarcoma is a cancer that starts in the connective tissues of the nasopharynx, such as bone, cartilage, fat, muscle or blood vessels.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society . Nasopharyngeal Cancer . 2015 :
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology . Nasopharyngeal Cancer . 2016 :
  • Hu K, Chan A, Costantino P, Harrison L . Cancer of the nasopharynx: General principles and management. Harrison LB, Sessions RB, Kies MS (eds.). Head and Neck Cancer: A Multidisciplinary Approach. 4th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014: 22A: 588 - 617.
  • National Cancer Institute . Nasopharyngeal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®) Health Professional Version . 2015 :
  • Ng WT, Ngan RKC, Chan SH, et al . Management of nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Bernier J (ed.). Head and Neck Cancer: Multimodality Management. Springer; 2016: 26: 445 - 473.