Nasopharyngeal cancer is usually treated with a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. For those cancers that have not responded to the primary treatments, or have recurred after treatment, surgery (often using robotic tools) is used.
Since nasopharyngeal cancer is found in the centre of the head, any of the main treatment options; radiation, chemotherapy and surgery, usually involve significant long-term side effects.
Cancer Treatment Side Effects
Radiation treatment for NPC often unfortunately involves some associated damage to nearby critical head structures. The most common side effects from the radiation treatment of NPC include; a reduction in saliva, dental cavities, chronic sinusitis, hearing deficits, and soft tissue fibrosis (hardening and loss of skin elasticity).
Side effects of chemotherapy as treatment for cancer usually include nausea, vomiting, and myelosuppression (decreased bone marrow activity).
Side effects of open-face surgery to treat NPC include; muscle coordination issues, which may severely impact normal speech and swallowing activity, facial scarring, as well as potential damage to facial nerves affecting a person’s ability to display and register emotions.
Cancer Prevention Treatments
Cancers may be caused by many factors, some of which may be preventable. For example, in nasopharyngeal cancer, there appears to be an environmental/dietary trigger early in the life of susceptible individuals, which acts in conjunction with other factors to ultimately trigger the growth of the cancer. Therefore either dietary or lifestyle changes could influence whether or not an individual develops a particular cancer.
Early Diagnosis of Cancer
The best results for treatment arise when cancers are found early. The reason is because there is less opportunity for the disease to spread and metastasize to other parts of the body. Direct observation is often used for visible cancers, but even by this time the tumour volume is millions of cells in size. Ideally, cancers could be identified by early stage biomarkers in a blood or tissue sample. In this way, a marker would indicate that a particular cancer is present; for example specific metabolic or protein byproducts, or in the case of a viral infection, fragments of the viral genome.