About nasopharyngeal cancer radiotherapy
This page tells you about radiotherapy for nasopharyngeal cancers. You can find the following information
About radiotherapy for nasopharyngeal cancer
Radiotherapy is the main type of treatment for nasopharyngeal cancers. It uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells. You usually have radiotherapy on its own or with chemotherapy. The most common type of radiotherapy is external beam radiotherapy. Sometimes doctors use internal radiotherapy to treat nasopharyngeal cancer that has come back.
Radiotherapy alone can cure most people with early stage nasopharyngeal cancers (stage 1 and stage 2). Whether this treatment is suitable for you will depend on the size of your cancer, exactly where it is and how far it has grown into the surrounding tissues.
Radiotherapy with chemotherapy or biological therapy
Having radiotherapy and chemotherapy at the same time is called chemoradiation. This is now regarded as standard treatment for stage 3 or 4 nasopharyngeal cancer and some stage 2 cancers. But chemoradiation is an intensive treatment and not everyone is fit enough to cope with the side effects. Doctors sometimes combine radiotherapy with biological therapy. The biological therapy can help the radiotherapy to shrink and control some squamous cell cancers.
Radiotherapy to relieve symptoms
Radiotherapy can relieve symptoms in advanced cancers of the nasopharynx. It does this by shrinking the cancer. The cancer may grow back, but it could take a while to do so. The radiotherapy may sometimes be combined with chemotherapy or a biological therapy.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating nasopharyngeal cancer section.
Radiotherapy is the main type of treatment for nasopharyngeal cancers. It uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells. You can't feel it at all while you are having treatment. It is like having an X-ray. But a course of radiotherapy lasts a few weeks and does usually have some side effects.
For nasopharyngeal cancers, you may have
- Radiotherapy alone
- Radiotherapy with chemotherapy (chemoradiation)
- Radiotherapy with biological therapy
- Radiotherapy to relieve symptoms
There are different ways of having radiotherapy for nasopharyngeal cancers. The most commonly used is external beam radiotherapy. Occasionally doctors use internal radiotherapy to treat nasopharyngeal cancer that has come back.
Radiotherapy alone may be the first choice of treatment for some types of nasopharyngeal cancer. It can cure most people with early stage cancers (stage 1 and stage 2). Whether this type of treatment is suitable for you will depend on
- The size of the cancer
- How far it has grown into the surrounding tissues
- Exactly where the cancer is
You may have radiotherapy and chemotherapy at the same time (called chemoradiation or synchronous treatment). Results from clinical trials show that chemoradiation works better than radiotherapy alone for people with stage 3 and 4 nasopharyngeal cancer and for some people with stage 2. So it is now regarded as standard treatment for people whose cancer is not an early cancer.
But chemoradiation is an intensive treatment and not everyone is fit enough to cope with the side effects. You will need to have some tests to find out whether or not your general health is good enough to handle a full course of chemoradiation treatment. There is more about chemoradiation and its side effects in the chemotherapy for nasopharyngeal cancer section.
For squamous cell stage 3 or 4 cancer you may have radiotherapy and biological therapy at the same time. You may have this combination if you are unable to have chemotherapy (such as cisplatin or carboplatin) for any reason. Results from clinical trials show that biological therapy can help to shrink a cancer or control it for longer than radiotherapy alone for some people. We have information about biological therapy for nasopharyngeal cancer.
Radiotherapy can relieve symptoms in advanced cancers of the nasopharynx. You may hear this called palliative radiotherapy. Your cancer may be causing difficulty in swallowing or breathing or causing pain in your bones. Radiotherapy treatment may relieve symptoms by shrinking the cancer. The cancer may grow back, but it could take a while to do so.
Radiotherapy could relieve your symptoms for some time, but no one can say for how long. You usually have radiotherapy to control symptoms as a short course of treatment over a few days.
If you would like more general information about radiotherapy, look at the main radiotherapy section, where there are sections on
- What radiotherapy involves
- How your radiotherapy treatment is planned
- Possible side effects of radiotherapy
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team