Nasopharyngeal cancer is a rare cancer of the nasopharynx, one of three sections that make up the throat. The nasopharynx connects the back of your nose to your mouth and is located above your soft palate and the dangling uvula. Because you can't see it and symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer don't always present, this condition can be hard to diagnose.

A Lump or Growth in the Neck

Three out of four people with nasopharyngeal cancer first notice the issue due to a soft lump or mass at the back of the neck. These masses usually aren't tender and tend to be painless when prodded. The lump is caused by the cancer having spread to the lymph nodes in the neck, which causes swelling. Lymph nodes are glands that contain the cells that help your immune system to operate, and they are found throughout the body. Usually, the lymph nodes are the size of a pea or smaller. If you discover a lump in your neck, your physician may perform a biopsy.


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Tinnitus is usually described as a ringing in the ears but can be applied to any sound heard without an external source. While tinnitus isn't deadly, it can be a frustrating sensation to have to live with. Because the nose and throat are so closely linked to the ears, a nasopharyngeal tumor can affect your hearing. That said, tinnitus is rarely the lone symptom of nasopharyngeal cancer.


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Hearing Loss

Hearing loss related to nasopharyngeal cancer tends to only occur in one ear. When you have a head cold, it's sometimes hard to tell if the main problem is in your ear, nose, or throat. The same process explains a lot of nasopharyngeal carcinoma symptoms. The cancer might cause a sense of fullness inside of the ear that can feel like a wax build-up but is in fact a build-up of fluid in the middle ear due to a blockage or obstruction. If you experience fullness or pain in only one ear that doesn't go away, it's best to have a doctor take a look at it.


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Blocked or Stuffy Nose

A nasal blockage can be frustrating, particularly if you can't clear it. A blocked nose related to a nasopharyngeal tumor will not get better if you blow your nose. Blocked noses can leave us feeling breathless because half our air passages are perpetually out of commission. Congestion can also make it difficult to sleep, but like tinnitus, if congestion is your only symptom, it's unlikely to be cancer. If you can't seem to shake the blockage, however, you should see an ENT specialist or speak to your physician.


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Blood-Stained Nasal Discharge

The broad spectrum of symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer means that a lot of other conditions share these same symptoms. Nosebleeds and nasal discharge are two such symptoms; they mirror sinus infection almost too well. Taking this into account, if the discharge or bleeding is excessive and doesn't cease, see a doctor as soon as possible.


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Some studies show chronic, recurring headaches on one side of the head can be the first symptom of nasopharyngeal cancer. Like so many other symptoms, this one can easily be ignored or misdiagnosed. In a study of more than 200 subjects at the Xiangya School of Medicine, five percent reported chronic headaches as their lone symptom before diagnosis. Twenty-five percent of subjects reported a headache along with a lump on their neck. Nasopharyngeal cancer is so rare that a headache alone is highly unlikely to be a result of the presence of a nasal tumor.


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Double Vision

Many kinds of cancer -- and other conditions -- can cause double vision, but this symptom affects only about ten percent of people diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer. Most cancer-related double vision occurs when the tumor affects the cranial nerve that controls the movement of your eyes. Sight problems tend to develop only in more advanced cases of nasopharyngeal cancer. In short, double vision and blurred vision are rare symptoms of an even rarer condition.


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Numbness of the Lower Face

A worrying symptom in and of itself, facial numbness or tingling on one side of the face is yet another common symptom that is linked to nasopharyngeal cancer. If nasopharyngeal cancer is the cause, the numbness will be felt in the lower part of the face. Facial paralysis is an uncommon symptom of a tumor, and as a stand-alone symptom, a different cause is more likely, such as infection, anxiety, or nerve damage. If you're experiencing tingling on one side of the face, be cautious and see a doctor, but don't worry.


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Difficulty Swallowing

Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty swallowing. Some people find it hard to swallow different foods or liquids. Others have trouble with eating, coughing or choking when they're trying to swallow. Another possible symptom of nasopharyngeal cancer, this one is more commonly caused by radiation treatment for the condition. 


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Weight Loss

Rapid weight loss is a symptom of many types of cancer. In nasopharyngeal carcinoma, weight loss is incredibly common, but tends to start after treatment has begun. Radiotherapy can have an adverse effect on food consumption by leaving the mouth too sore to eat anything and decreasing appetite. Though studies are not concrete, research suggests people with lower body mass indexes (BMI) may be more susceptible to recurrences of nasopharyngeal cancer.


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