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 (screening is testing for cancer in people without any symptoms). There are no simple, non-invasive exams or blood tests that can reliably find this cancer early.

But in some parts of the world such as China, where NPC is common, some people are being screened routinely for this cancer. They are first selected because their blood shows evidence of infection with the Epstein-Barr virus, although EBV infection is much more common than NPC. They are given regular exams of the nasopharynx and neck. This approach can also be used in families when one member has developed NPC. It isn’t known if this strategy lowers the death rate from this cancer.

Sometimes NPC can be found early if it causes symptoms that make patients seek medical attention. The symptoms may even seem unrelated to the nasopharynx (for example, a constant feeling of fullness in one ear). But in most people, NPCs may not cause symptoms until they have reached an advanced stage.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
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Last Medical Review: January 15, 2015 Last Revised: August 8, 2016

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