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Nasopharyngeal cancer treatment by stage

Men and women discussing nasopharyngeal cancer

This page gives you an overview of the treatment for each stage of nasopharyngeal cancer. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Stage 1 nasopharyngeal cancer

Radiotherapy is the main choice of treatment for stage 1 nasopharyngeal cancer.

Stage 2 nasopharyngeal cancer

For stage 2 nasopharyngeal cancers you may have radiotherapy to the tumour and lymph nodes in your neck. Or you may have radiotherapy and chemotherapy together (chemoradiation).

Stage 3 and 4 nasopharyngeal cancer

For stage 3 or 4 nasopharyngeal cancer, you are most likely to have chemotherapy and radiotherapy together. In some cases you may have radiotherapy alone. 

You may have chemotherapy before or after chemoradiation.

Nasopharyngeal cancer that has come back

If your cancer has come back, treatment depends on where the cancer is. If it comes back in

  • the same place – you will usually have radiotherapy again
  • the lymph nodes in your neck – you are likely to have surgery to remove them
  • another part of your body – you are likely to have chemotherapy

Advanced cancer that is unlikely to get better (palliative treatment)

Your doctor may suggest further treatment with radiotherapy, chemotherapy or both. The aim of this treatment is to shrink the cancer and help to control your symptoms.
 

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

 

 

What stage means

The stage of a cancer means how far it has grown and whether it has spread. You can find a description of each stage of nasopharyngeal cancer in this section.

 

Stage 1 nasopharyngeal cancer

Radiotherapy is the main choice of treatment for stage 1 nasopharyngeal cancer. The doctor carefully plans your treatment so that radiation beams will hit your cancer and kill the cancer cells. With this stage of cancer there is no sign that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. But you may have radiotherapy to the nodes in your neck, just in case any cancer cells have strayed there.

 

Stage 2 nasopharyngeal cancer

For stage 2 nasopharyngeal cancers you may have either of these treatments

 

Stage 3 and 4 nasopharyngeal cancer

For stage 3 and stage 4A and 4B nasopharyngeal cancer, you may have one of these treatments

We know from research that for these cancers, having a combination of treatments improves your survival and helps stop the cancer from coming back. If your cancer is diagnosed at stage 3 or 4, you are most likely to have chemotherapy and radiotherapy together.

 

Nasopharyngeal cancer that has come back

If your cancer has come back, the treatment you will have depends on where in your body the cancer is.

If your cancer comes back in the same place (the primary site) you will usually have radiotherapy again. This may be external radiotherapy, either on its own or with internal radiotherapy or chemotherapy. In some circumstances, you might have surgery to remove the tumour, but this is less common.

If the cancer has come back in the lymph nodes in your neck, you are most likely to have surgery to remove them. An operation to remove lymph nodes in the neck is called a neck dissection. Another possible treatment is more radiotherapy, although this is less likely.

If your cancer comes back in another part of your body, you are likely to have chemotherapy. If your cancer has spread to your bones you might have radiotherapy to the affected bones. Sometimes your doctor might suggest new drugs that are being tested as part of a clinical trial. There is information about the newer drugs for nasopharyngeal cancer in our section about nasopharyngeal cancer research.

 

Treating advanced cancer that is unlikely to get better (palliative treatment)

Your doctor may suggest further treatment with radiotherapy, chemotherapy or both. The aim of this treatment is to shrink the cancer and help to control the symptoms the cancer is causing. Although it’s not likely to cure your cancer, it may control it for some time.

If your cancer is very advanced your doctor will refer you to a palliative care team for expert control of your symptoms. Palliative care specialists care for people in the final stages of their illness, but they also work with people at any stage of cancer. The palliative care team can provide expert help with troublesome symptoms. 

Palliative care involves helping to

  • Control symptoms such as pain, sickness and breathing problems
  • Support you with diet and physical care
  • Help you have the best possible quality of life, whether you are at home, or in a hospital or hospice
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Updated: 26 August 2014