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Nasopharyngeal Cancers

Signs and Symptoms of Nasopharyngeal Cancer

In many cases, nasopharyngeal cancers get quite large before patients become aware of symptoms. The exact symptoms depend on where the tumor is located, how large it has gotten and whether it has spread before being detected. In general, you can have nasal symptoms, ear symptoms, cranial nerve symptoms or neck symptoms.

  • A lump in the neck: Believe it or not, one of the most common ways that a nasopharynx cancer is detected is after it has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck. Up to 80 percent of people with NPC actually come to their doctor with a lump in the neck.
  • A blocked-up nose: Difficulty breathing from one or both sides of the nose (obstruction) can be caused by a large tumor blocking the nasal breathing passage.
  • Bleeding from the nose or mouth: This can be caused by a tumor in the back of the nose.
  • Ear problems: Ear related problems such as hearing loss on one side, ringing in the ear on one side, an ear infection in an adult or fluid behind the eardrum can be caused by a tumor mass blocking the Eustachian tube.
  • Cranial nerve (CN) problems: A problem with the cranial nerves can be caused by a tumor extending into the skull or along the skull base where the nerves exit. A tumor growing into one of these nerves can cause a variety of problems depending on which nerve is affected:
    • Slurred speech: CN XII is called the hypoglossal nerve, and it controls the muscles of the tongue.
    • Double vision: CN III, IV and VI are three different oculomotor nerves, and they control the muscles that move the eye.
    • Loss of feeling in part of the face: CN VIII is the third division of the trigeminal nerve, and it sends sensation signals from the lower part of the face to the brain.
    • Difficulty with shoulder movement: CN XI is called the spinal accessory nerve and controls movement of some of the shoulder and neck muscles.
    • Change in voice and swallowing: CN IX and X are called the glossopharyngeal nerve and vagus nerve and have a number of different functions, some of which include controlling muscles of the voice and swallowing.
  • Headache: A bad headache can be caused by a tumor growing into the skull.
  • Difficulty with mouth opening (trismus): This can happen when the tumor invades into muscles that move the jaw.

In rare cases, the cancer may not be detected until a patient has severe bone pain (in the legs or spine), and tests show a cancer. Then further tests find the nasopharynx cancer. Even more rarely, metastases into the lungs or liver can lead to finding a nasopharynx cancer.

But don’t jump to any conclusions. You could have one or more of these symptoms but NOT have nasopharyngeal cancer. There are several non-cancerous causes of the same symptoms. That’s why you need to see a specialist.

References

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