The nasopharynx is part of the upper aerodigestive tract and it lies at the back of the anterior nasal space. Due to its inaccessible location, lesions of the nasopharynx are not easily detected, and hence tumours of the nasopharynx may present only at a later stage. NPC is a malignant neoplasm that arises from the epithelium of this anatomical site. It has a low incidence in the western population but in the local context, it is seen more commonly amongst people of Southern Chinese and Javanese descent.
Types of NPC
World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies NPC into the following three types, based on their histological appearance:
In the local context, it is Type III that is by far the most common of the three.
The following are some ways in which NPC can present in patients:
Risk factors include:
Patients require nasoendoscopic examination and diagnosis are confirmed when a biopsy performed showed histological evidence of NPC. Post-nasal space biopsy is usually performed under topical local anaesthesia and nasoendocopic guidance in the outpatient setting.
The procedure is often uncomplicated and takes less than 10 minutes. For patients on anti-coagulants or anti-platelets, their medication may be stopped prior to the procedure to prevent excessive bleeding.
Blood investigations such as serum EBV VCA-IgA (viral capsid antigen), EBV Ea-IgA (early antigen) and EBV DNA have been used as a method for screening for NPC but routine screening of the general population who is not at increased risk is not advised.
NPC is treated primarily with radiotherapy or concurrent chemoradiotherapy. The role of surgery is only necessary in recessive or recurrent setting.