Treatment options for nasopharyngeal cancer | Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter

Treatment options for nasopharyngeal cancer

Men and women discussing nasopharyngeal cancer

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

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Possible treatments for nasopharyngeal cancer

Radiotherapy is the main treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer. You may have radiotherapy alone or with chemotherapy. When you have chemotherapy at the same time as radiotherapy it is called chemoradiation. You may have chemotherapy before radiotherapy (called neo adjuvant chemotherapy or induction chemotherapy). The aim is to shrink the tumour and make it easier to treat with radiotherapy.

Surgery is not often used to treat nasopharyngeal cancer because the area is very difficult to reach.

Which treatment is best for you will depend on

  • The type of nasopharyngeal cancer you have
  • The stage of your cancer
  • Your general health and fitness

Depending on your circumstances your doctors may suggest a single type of treatment or a combination of treatments.
 

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

 

 

The main treatments

Radiotherapy is the main treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer. You may have radiotherapy alone or with chemotherapy. Doctors don't often use surgery to treat nasopharyngeal cancer because the area is so difficult to reach.

As with many types of cancer, the earlier your cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to get it under control and possibly cure it. On the next page of this section, there is a description of the likely treatment for each stage of nasopharyngeal cancer.

Which treatment is best for you will depend on

Depending on your circumstances your doctors may suggest a single type of treatment or a combination of treatments.

Below are short overviews of each type of treatment. There is also more detailed information about radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery for nasopharyngeal cancer in this section.

 

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy is the main treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer. You may have it on its own or with chemotherapy. Radiotherapy alone cures most early stage nasopharyngeal cancers (stages 1 and 2). There is information about side effects of radiotherapy for nasopharyngeal cancer in this section. 

You might have internal radiotherapy as a boost at the end of a course of external therapy, or to treat nasopharyngeal cancer that has come back. 

For locally advanced nasopharyngeal cancer, you usually have radiotherapy and chemotherapy together (chemoradiation).

 

Chemotherapy

For nasopharyngeal cancer you may have

  • Chemotherapy combined with radiotherapy (known as chemoradiation)
  • Chemotherapy on its own

You may have chemotherapy if your cancer has spread to

You may have chemotherapy before radiotherapy. Doctors call this neo adjuvant chemotherapy or induction chemotherapy. The aim is to shrink the tumour and make it easier to treat with radiotherapy. You may have 2 or more chemotherapy drugs together. This is called combination chemotherapy. Using 2 or more drugs together sometimes works better than using one drug. We have more information about chemotherapy for nasopharyngeal cancer, the chemotherapy drugs used, and the side effects of chemotherapy in this section.

 

Chemoradiation

Chemoradiation is when you have chemotherapy and radiotherapy at the same time. The chemotherapy makes the cancer cells more sensitive to radiotherapy. You may have chemoradiation if your cancer has grown into the tissue around the nasopharynx or into the nearby lymph nodes. It can be quite a tough treatment to have as the side effects can be more severe. So you will have tests to see if you’re fit enough to have it. 

There is information about the side effects of chemoradiation in the chemotherapy for nasopharyngeal cancer section.

 

Surgery

Surgery is not a common treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer. This is because the area is very difficult to get to. Also the nasopharynx is surrounded by important nerves and blood vessels. These add to the chances of complications from surgery. For nasopharyngeal cancer, if the cancer has come back in the nodes after radiotherapy, doctors may use surgery to remove the lymph nodes.

If your disease comes back quite soon after treatment with radiotherapy your specialist may suggest surgery to remove your tumour. Or your doctor may suggest surgery if you have a rare type of nasopharyngeal cancer such as an adenocarcinoma

If you do have surgery to remove your cancer, you might need more than one operation – one to remove the tumour and another to reconstruct the area, though these are usually done during the same operation when possible. The reconstruction may improve the look of the area after your first operation and help you to breathe, chew and swallow more easily too.

There is more information about surgery for nasopharyngeal cancer in the treating nasopharyngeal cancer section.

 

Choosing your treatment

Your specialist may advise that radiotherapy is the best treatment for you, because of the stage or position of your cancer. But you may want to get a second opinion before you have your treatment. It can sometimes be a good idea to seek the advice of more than one specialist. A second opinion may confirm what your own specialist has said. Also, a second opinion may give you more information and help you feel more confident about your treatment plan. But a second opinion means just that. It does not mean that the second doctor will take over your care. Your original specialist will usually still manage your treatment.

Do remember that these days cancers are treated by a multidisciplinary team. This means that several specialists are likely to be involved in your care, and between them will discuss the best way to treat your cancer.

Rate this page:
Submit rating

 

Rated 4 out of 5 based on 4 votes
Rate this page
Rate this page for no comments box
Please enter feedback to continue submitting
Send feedback
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team

No Error

Updated: 26 August 2014