Coping with nasopharyngeal cancer

You might have lots of emotions to cope with when you are diagnosed with cancer. And the treatment and cancer can cause changes in your body which can affect how you feel in yourself.

There is support available to help you cope during and after treatment.

Your feelings

You might have a number of different feelings when you're told you have cancer. You may feel shocked and upset. You might also feel:

  • numb
  • frightened and uncertain
  • confused
  • angry and resentful
  • guilty

You may have some or all of these feelings. Or you might feel totally different. Everyone reacts in their own way. Sometimes it's hard to take in the fact that you have cancer at all.

Experiencing different feelings is a natural part of coming to terms with cancer. All sorts of feelings are likely to come and go.

Helping yourself

You may be more able to cope and make decisions if you have information about your type of cancer and its treatment. Information helps you to know what to expect.

Taking in information can be difficult, especially when you have just been diagnosed. Make a list of questions before you see your doctor. Take someone with you to remind you what you want to ask. They can also help you to remember the information that was given. Getting a lot of new information can feel overwhelming.

Ask your doctors and nurses to explain things again if you need them to.

Remember that you don’t have to sort everything out at once. It might take some time to deal with each issue. Ask for help if you need it.

Talking to other people

Talking to your friends and relatives about your cancer can help and support you. But some people are scared of the emotions this could bring up and won’t want to talk. They might worry that you won't be able to cope with your situation.

It can strain relationships if your family or friends don't want to talk. But talking can help increase trust and support between you and them.

Help your family and friends by letting them know if you would like to talk about what’s happening and how you feel.

You might find it easier to talk to someone outside your own friends and family. We have cancer information nurses you can call on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Or you may prefer to see a counsellor.

Support groups

You may find it helpful to go to a support group to talk to other people affected by cancer. Ask your nurse if they run a head and neck cancer support group in the hospital. Or you can look up local cancer information and support services on the NHS website.

Physical effects

Treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer can cause side effects, such as sickness, a sore or dry mouth, or thick saliva. The side effects can be mild or more severe. They usually get better once treatment finishes. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any side effects or if they get worse. They can treat them and help you find ways of coping.

You may feel very tired and lacking in energy (fatigue) during treatment and for some time afterwards. This is common in a lot of people who have cancer, particularly in the head and neck area.

Nasopharyngeal cancer can spread to nearby parts of the head and neck. These parts may include the:

  • nose and paranasal sinuses
  • mouth and back of the throat (oropharynx)
  • cranial nerves – these nerves are close to the nasopharynx and control our sense of smell, sight and eye movement
  • eye or tissue surrounding the eye

If the cancer has spread, then you might have changes with:

  • the way you look
  • how you can eat
  • your hearing
  • your sight

All these changes can be very difficult to cope with and affect the way you feel about yourself. They can affect your self esteem and the way you relate to others, especially those very close to you. If you are in a sexual relationship, one or all of these changes might also affect your sex life.

Coping practically

You and your family might need to cope with practical things including:

  • money matters
  • financial support, such as benefits, sick pay and grants
  • work issues
  • childcare

Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse to find out who can help. Getting help early with these things can mean that they don’t become a big issue later.

Our coping practically section has more information about all these issues. 

Giving up smoking

Your doctor will advise you to try to give up smoking, if you still smoke after your treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer.

Giving up smoking can be very difficult, especially if you have smoked for a long time. But it does give you many benefits, which include:

  • reducing your risk of getting another head and neck cancer
  • reducing your risk of getting a different smoking related cancer
  • helping your recovery by preventing some of the side effects

Your doctor or specialist nurse can give you contact details of services that can help you stop smoking.

Last reviewed: 
23 Feb 2021
Next review due: 
23 Feb 2024
  • Nasopharyngeal carcinoma: ESMO-EURACAN Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
    P Bossi and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2021. Volume 32, Issue 4, Page 452-465

  • Nasopharyngeal carcinoma: United Kingdom National Multidisciplinary Guidelines
    R Simo and others
    The Journal of Laryngology and Otology, 2016. Volume 130, Supplement 2, Pages 97-103

  • Textbook of uncommon cancers (5th edition)
    D Raghavan, MS Ahluwalia, C Blanke and others
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2017

Related links