Can Nasopharyngeal Cancer Be Prevented?

Most people in the United States who develop nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) have no risk factors that can be controlled, so their cancers could not have been prevented. The possible links with tobacco and heavy alcohol use are not yet clear, so we don't know if avoiding these can lower a person’s risk of NPC. Still, both tobacco and alcohol use have clearly been linked to many other cancers, as well as other health problems, so avoiding them can have many health benefits.

Infection with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) has been linked to NPC. Scientists are trying to create an EBV vaccine, but at this time there's no known way to prevent this infection.

Because certain types of foods have been linked with NPC risk, reducing or not eating some types of food may lower the number of cases. This is especially true in parts of the world where NPC is common, such as southern China, northern Africa, and the Arctic region. Descendants of Southeast Asians who immigrated to the United States and eat a typical American diet, for example, have a lower risk of developing NPC. But these dietary factors are not thought to account for all cases of NPC in most other parts of the world. Other factors, such as genetics, are likely to play a part as well.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Ozoya OO, Sokol L, Dalia S. EBV-Related Malignancies, Outcomes and Novel Prevention Strategies. Infect Disord Drug Targets. 2016;16(1):4-21.

Smets F, Sokal EM. Prevention and treatment for Epstein-Barr virus infection and related cancers. Recent Results Cancer Res. 2014;193:173-190.

Turati F, Bravi F, Polesel J, et al. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet and nasopharyngeal cancer risk in Italy. Cancer Causes Control. 2017;28(2):89-95.  

Last Revised: September 24, 2018

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.