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Nasopharyngeal Cancer Treatment

1. Surgery
Because the nasopharynx is a difficult place to operate on and because other types of treatment are often effective, surgery is seldom the main treatment for patients with nasopharyngeal cancer.

With newer endoscopic surgical techniques, doctors can completely remove some nasopharyngeal tumors, but this is appropriate only for a small number of patients. These complex procedures are done only in specialized centers. Surgery does have some advantages — for example, it lets doctors look at the cancer (and nearby tissues) closely in the lab to make sure it has all been removed. The risks and side effects of any surgery depend on the extent of the operation and a person’s general health before the surgery. All surgeries carry some risk, including the possibility of bleeding, infections, complications from anesthesia, and pneumonia. Most people will have some pain for a while after the operation, although this can usually be controlled with medicines. Other possible side effects can include problems with speech or swallowing. If you are considering surgery, your doctor will discuss the likely side effects with you beforehand.

2. Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays or particles to destroy cancer cells or slow their rate of growth. It is usually the main form of treatment for NPC because most cases are very sensitive to radiation. Treatment is usually given both to the main nasopharyngeal mass and to nearby lymph nodes in the neck. Even if the lymph nodes are not abnormally firm or large, radiation is still used in case a few cancer cells have spread there. If the lymph nodes are known to have cancer cells, higher radiation doses are used.

3. Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy (chemo) is treatment that uses drugs to treat cancer. These drugs are most often given into a vein or by mouth. They enter the bloodstream and reach all areas of the body, making this treatment useful for cancers that have spread beyond the head and neck. Some chemo drugs also make cancer cells more sensitive to radiation. Chemo is often used together with radiation therapy as the first treatment for more advance stages of this cancer. This is called chemoradiation. It may also be used after radiation (or chemoradiation). This is known as adjuvant treatment. It is also used alone for patients whose NPC has spread to distant organs such as the lungs, bones, or liver. See this resource though on chemo side effects.

Doctors give chemotherapy in cycles, with each period of treatment followed by a rest period to allow the body time to recover. Chemotherapy cycles generally last about 3 to 4 weeks. Chemotherapy is often not recommended for patients in poor health, but
advanced age by itself is not a barrier to getting chemotherapy.

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