Nasopharyngeal Cancer

General Information | Treatment Options | Additional Resources

Treatment
  • Overview
  • Standard Treatment
  • Clinical Trials
  • Treatment By Stage

There are different types of treatment for patients with nasopharyngeal cancer.

Different types of treatment are available for patients with nasopharyngeal cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Follow-up tests may be needed.

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. This is sometimes called re-staging.

Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.

Three types of standard treatment are used:

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

External radiation therapy to the thyroid or the pituitary gland may change the way the thyroid gland works. The doctor may test the thyroid gland before and after therapy to make sure it is working properly. It is also important that a dentist check the patient's teeth, gums, and mouth, and fix any existing problems before radiation therapy begins.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the spinal column, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Surgery

Surgery is a procedure to find out whether cancer is present, to remove cancer from the body, or to repair a body part. Also called an operation. Surgery is sometimes used for nasopharyngeal cancer that does not respond to radiation therapy. If cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, the doctor may remove lymph nodes and other tissues in the neck.

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Biologic therapy

Biologic therapy is a treatment that uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy or immunotherapy.

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is a type of 3-dimensional radiation therapy that uses computer-generated images to show the size and shape of the tumor. Compared to standard radiation therapy, intensity-modulated radiation therapy may be less likely to cause xerostomia (dry mouth). This may improve quality of life.

Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's clinical trials database.

 

A link to a list of current clinical trials is included for each treatment section. For some types or stages of cancer, there may not be any trials listed. Check with your doctor for clinical trials that are not listed here but may be right for you.

Stage I Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Treatment of stage I nasopharyngeal cancer is usually radiation therapy to the tumor and lymph nodes in the neck.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with stage I nasopharyngeal cancer.

Stage II Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Treatment of stage II nasopharyngeal cancer may include the following:

  • Chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy.
  • Radiation therapy to the tumor and lymph nodes in the neck.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with stage II nasopharyngeal cancer.

Stage III Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Treatment of stage III nasopharyngeal cancer may include the following:

  • Chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy.
  • Radiation therapy to the tumor and lymph nodes in the neck.
  • Radiation therapy followed by surgery to remove cancer-containing lymph nodes in the neck that remain or come back after radiation therapy.
  • A clinical trial of chemotherapy before, combined with, or after radiation therapy.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with stage III nasopharyngeal cancer.

Stage IV Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Treatment of stage IV nasopharyngeal cancer may include the following:

  • Chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy.
  • Radiation therapy to the tumor and lymph nodes in the neck.
  • Radiation therapy followed by surgery to remove cancer-containing lymph nodes in the neck that remain or come back after radiation therapy.
  • Chemotherapy for cancer that has metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body.
  • A clinical trial of chemotherapy before, combined with, or after radiation therapy.
  • A clinical trial of new radiation therapy such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with stage IV nasopharyngeal cancer.

Treatment Options for Recurrent Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Treatment of recurrent nasopharyngeal cancer may include the following:

  • External radiation therapy plus internal radiation therapy.
  • Surgery.
  • Chemotherapy.
  • A clinical trial of biologic therapy and/or chemotherapy.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with recurrent nasopharyngeal cancer.

Cancer information from the NCI PDQ service