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A Little About Nasopharyngeal Cancer

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On this page, I will be posting articles and stories that pertain to nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC).

If you have an article or story that you would like to have posted here, please let me know. 

Understanding Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

Nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) is fairly rare in most parts of the world. In North America, it occurs in about 7 in every 1 million people. This may add up to about 2,000 cases a year in the United States.

This cancer is, however, much more common in certain parts of Asia and North Africa, particularly in Southeast China. It is also more common among Inuits of Alaska and Canada, and among some immigrant groups in the United States, such as recent Chinese and Hmong immigrants.

The risk of NPC increases slowly throughout life, but it can occur in people of any age, including children. About half of the people with NPC in the United States are younger than 55 years old.

Can nasopharyngeal cancer be prevented?

Most people in the United States who develop nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) have no obvious risk factors, so their cancers could not have been prevented.

Can Nasopharyngeal cancer be found early?

In the United States and other countries where nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) is fairly rare, most doctors do not recommend routine screening for this cancer. There are no simple, non-invasive exams or blood tests that can reliably find this cancer early. 
In most cases, nasopharyngeal cancer may not cause symptoms until they have reach an advanced stage.

What are the risks for nasopharyngeal cancer?

A risk factor is anything that affects a person's chance of getting a disease such as cancer.
Different cancers have different risk factors. For example, exposing skin to strong sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer. Smoking is a risk factor for cancers of teh lung, mouth, larynx (voice box), bladder, kidney, several other organs, and for certain leukemias.

But risk factors don't tell us everything. Having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease. And many people who get the disease may not have had any known risk factors.

Scientists have found several risk factors that make a person more likely to develop nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC).

NPC is found about twice as often in males as it is in females.

In the United States, NPC is most common in Chinese Americans, followed by other Asian-American groups, African Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, and whites.

People who live in areas of Asia, northern Africa, and the Arctic region where NPC is common typically eat diets very high in salt-cured fish and meat. Indeed, the rate of this cancer is dropping in southeast China as people begin eating a more Westernized diet. In contrast, some studies have suggested that diets high in fruits and vegetables may lower the risk of NPC.

Epstein -Barr virus infection
Almost all nasopharyngeal cancer cells contain parts of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and most people with nasopharyngeal cancer have evidence of infection by this virus in their blood.
Infection with EBV is very common throughout the world, often occurring in childhood. In the United States, where infection with this virus tends to occur in slightly older children, it often causes infectious mononucleosis("mono"), usually in teens.

But the link between EBV infection and NPC is complex and not yet completely understood. EBV infection alone is not enough to cause NPC, since infection with this virus is very common, and this cancer is rare. Other factors, such as a person's genes, may affect how the body deals with EBV, which 
in turn may affect how EBV contributes to the development of NPC.

Genetic Factors
A person's genes may affect their risk for NPC.  For example, just as people have different blood types, they also have different tissue types. Studies have found that people with certain inherited tissue types have an increased risk of developing NPC. Tissue types affect immune responses, so this may be related to how a person's body reacts to EBV infection.

Family History
Family members of people with NPC are more likely to get this cancer. It is not known if this is because of inherited genes, shared environmental factors (such as the same diet or living quarters), or some combination of these.

Other possible risk factors
Most (but not all) studies have shown that smoking may contribute to the development of NPC. More research is needed to define this link.
Some (but not all) studies have also suggested that workplace exposure to formaldehyde or wood dust may increase the risk of NPC.

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