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Statistics and outlook for nasopharyngeal cancer

Men and women discussing nasopharyngeal cancer

This page is about statistics and what they can tell us about the outlook for people with nasopharyngeal cancer. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Statistics and outlook for nasopharyngeal cancer

Outlook means your chances of getting better. Your doctor may call this your prognosis. With nasopharyngeal cancer, the likely outcome depends on how advanced the cancer is when it is diagnosed (the stage). The outlook also depends on which part of the nasopharynx is involved.

The statistics we use are taken from a variety of sources, including the opinions and experience of the experts who check each section of Cancer Research UK's patient information. They are intended as a general guide only. For the more complete picture in your case, you’d have to speak to your own specialist.

We include statistics because people ask for them, but not everyone wishes to read this type of information. Remember you can skip this page if you don't want to read it, you can always come back to it.

How reliable are cancer statistics?

No statistics can tell you what will happen to you. Your cancer is unique. The same type of cancer can grow at different rates in different people. The statistics cannot tell you about the different treatments people may have had, or how that treatment may have affected their prognosis. There are many individual factors that will affect your treatment and your outlook.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating nasopharyngeal cancer section.

 

 

What you need to know about the information on this page

This page contains quite detailed information about the survival rates of different stages of nasopharyngeal cancer. We have included it because many people have asked us for this. But not everyone who is diagnosed with a cancer wishes to read this type of information. If you are not sure whether you want to know at the moment or not, then perhaps you might like to skip this page for now. You can always come back to it.

The statistics we use are taken from a variety of sources, including the opinions and experience of the experts who check each section of Cancer Research UK's patient information. They are intended as a general guide only. For the more complete picture in your case, you'd have to speak to your own specialist.

 

Cancer statistics in general

We have another section explaining more about the different types of cancer statistics. Unless you’re very familiar with medical statistics, you may find it helpful to read this before you read the information below.

Remember – statistics are averages based on large numbers of people. They can’t predict exactly what will happen to you. No two patients are exactly alike and response to treatment also varies from one person to another.

You should feel free to ask your doctor about your outlook (prognosis), but not even your doctor can tell you what will definitely happen. You may hear your doctor use the term 5 year survival. This does not mean you will only live 5 years. It relates to the number of people who are alive 5 years after diagnosis with nasopharyngeal cancer.

Doctors follow what happens to people for at least 5 years after treatment in most research studies. This is because most cancers, if they are going to come back, will do so within 5 years. If your nasopharyngeal cancer has not come back within that time, there is only a small chance that it will do so after 5 years.

Doctors who treat cancer can be reluctant to use the word cure. They don’t like to say these people are cured because there is a small chance the cancer may come back. So they tend to use the terms remission or 5 year survival instead.

 

How common these cancers are

Nasopharyngeal cancer is rare in most developed countries. But it is much more common in parts of Asia, such as southern China. In the UK, only about 1 cancer out of every 1,400 cases diagnosed is a nasopharyngeal cancer.

 

Overall outlook for nasopharyngeal cancer

As with many other types of cancer, the outcome from nasopharyngeal cancer depends on how advanced your cancer is. In other words, on the stage of your cancer. The outlook also depends on the type of nasopharyngeal cancer you have and which part of the nasopharynx is involved. The statistics immediately below are general. They include all stages and all types of nasopharyngeal cancer.

After this, we have listed 5 year survival rates for different stages of nasopharyngeal cancer. These can only be a guide. For information better tailored to the type and stage of your cancer you will have to talk to your own specialist.

Because of where it is, nasopharyngeal cancer may not cause symptoms early on. So it may not be picked up until it is at a more advanced stage. Most nasopharyngeal cancers are diagnosed at stage 3 or 4. Survival rates for this type of cancer have not been as good as for some other types of cancers, but they are improving. In Europe, for all adults diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer, about 50 out of every 100 people (50%) live for at least 5 years. Younger people generally have a better outlook than older people. Around 70 out of 100 people under the age of 45 (70%) live for at least 5 years. Whereas around 35 out of 100 people between the ages of 65 and 74 (35%) live for 5 years or more.

These statistics and the ones below are relative survival figures. This means that they don't include people who have died from other causes. Cancer statistics are often worked out this way because it gives a more accurate picture of the survival rate of the cancer. Many people with cancer are older and may not die from their cancer, but from other illnesses, such as heart disease.

The outlook also depends on the type of nasopharyngeal cancer you have. Overall survival rates for people with undifferentiated nasopharyngeal cancer (type 3 – the most common type) are better than the keratinizing type (type 1). This is because the undifferentiated type responds better to radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

 

Statistics by stage for nasopharyngeal cancer

Below are some statistics for the different stages of nasopharyngeal cancer. There are currently no outlook statistics by stage for the UK, and so the figures below are from America.

Stage 1

This is very early stage nasopharyngeal cancer. Of all those people diagnosed with stage 1 nasopharyngeal cancer, around 80 out of every 100 people (80%) will live for at least 5 years.

Stage 2

Of all those people diagnosed with stage 2 nasopharyngeal cancers who are treated with radiotherapy, around 65 out of every 100 people (65%) will live for at least 5 years.

Stage 3

Of all those people diagnosed with stage 3 nasopharyngeal cancers, about 60 out of every 100 people (60%) will live for at least 5 years. 

Stage 4

The 5 year survival rates for stage 4 nasopharyngeal cancers are lower than for the other stages. Of all the people diagnosed with stage 4 nasopharyngeal cancer, around 50 out of every 100 people (50%) will live for at least 5 years. But your own outlook will vary from this, depending on whether or not the cancer has spread to another part of the body.

Remember that these statistics are for people who had treatment a number of years ago. Treatments improve over time, so people having treatment now may have a better outlook.

 

How reliable these statistics are

No statistics can tell you what will happen to you. Your cancer is unique. The same type of cancer can grow at different rates in different people. The statistics are not detailed enough to tell you about the different treatments people may have had. And how that treatment may have affected their prognosis. Many individual factors will determine your treatment and prognosis. If you are fit enough to have treatment, you are likely to do better than average. This is particularly true for those with advanced cancers.

 

Clinical trials

Taking part in clinical trials can help to improve the outlook for people in the future. There is information about clinical trials in the trials and research section.

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Updated: 28 August 2014