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About Childhood Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

  • Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is a rare cancer that arises in a child’s nasal cavity and pharynx (throat). It is uncommon in children under age 10. Between 10 and 19, the incidence rises.

    • Nasopharyngeal carcinoma tumors are strongly associated with the Epstein-Barr virus.
    • They can spread to the base of the skull, causing cranial nerve palsy. Sometimes, it can result in the paralysis of facial muscles or difficulty moving the jaw.
    • The tumors can also spread to more distant sites such as the lungs, bones, or liver.

    At Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, our pediatric cancer doctors have the expertise to treat children with rare cancers, such as nasopharyngeal cancer. When your child comes to us, they’ll receive care from top specialists in the Rare Tumors Program, which is part of our Solid Tumor Center.

    Symptoms of Childhood Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

    The most common symptoms of nasopharyngeal carcinoma include:

    • Nasal bleeding, obstruction, or discharge
    • Ear symptoms, including infection, tinnitus, or deafness
    • Headache
    • Neck swelling
    • Neck mass, which is usually painless
    • Facial muscle paralysis

    How We Diagnose Childhood Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

    If we suspect your child has nasopharyngeal carcinoma, your doctor will order a variety of diagnostic tests. Testing may include imaging studies, blood tests, and a biopsy.

    Your doctor will review the results to accurately diagnose the tumor and determine the best treatment plan for your child’s needs.

    How We Treat Childhood Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

    Your child’s medical team of pediatric cancer experts will suggest one of the following treatment options:

    • Radiation therapy: Doctors typically recommend radiation therapy as the first line of nasopharyngeal carcinoma treatment.
    • Chemotherapy: We may use chemotherapy, a drug treatment that aims to destroy or shrink cancer cells, for advanced cases of nasopharyngeal carcinoma.
    • Surgery: The only surgery we typically perform is a biopsy. The location of these tumors makes them inoperable.

    After treatment, we continue to care for you and your family through our pediatric cancer survivorship programs. We provide ongoing check-ups and offer resources such as psychosocial counseling and support groups.

    Long-term Outcomes for Children with Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

    When children receive a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy, the overall survival rate is 55-80 percent. Recurrent nasopharyngeal carcinomas are challenging to treat, but the use of innovative cell therapy approaches has shown promising results.

    Childhood Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma Treatment Team

    We bring together a team of expert pediatric cancer specialists to treat children with nasopharyngeal carcinoma. View a complete list of the specialists in our Childhood Solid Tumor Center.