Signs and Symptoms of Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Most people with nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) notice a lump or mass in the neck that leads them to see a doctor. There may be lumps on both sides of the neck toward the back. The lumps are usually not tender or painful. They're caused by the cancer spreading to lymph nodes in the neck, making them swell.

Other possible symptoms of NPC include:

  • Hearing loss, ringing in the ear, pain, or feeling of fullness in the ear (especially on one side only)
  • Ear infections that keep coming back
  • Nasal blockage or stuffiness
  • Nosebleeds
  • Headaches
  • Facial pain or numbness
  • Trouble opening your mouth
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Trouble breathing or talking

Ear infections are common in children, but are less common in adults. If you develop an infection in one ear and you haven't had ear infections in the past, it's important to have a specialist examine your nasopharynx. This is especially true if you don't have an upper respiratory tract infection (like a “cold”) along with the ear infection.

Many of the symptoms and signs of NPC are more often caused by other, less serious diseases. Still, if you have any of these problems, it's important to see a doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

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.

Hui EP and Chan A. Epidemiology, etiology, and diagnosis of nasopharyngeal carcinoma. In: Shah S, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, Mass.: UpToDate, 2021. https://www.uptodate.com. Accessed March 15, 2022.

Leeman JE, Katabi N, Wong RJ, Lee NY and Romesser PB. Ch. 65 - Cancer of the Head and Neck. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa. Elsevier; 2020.

National Cancer Institute. Nasopharyngeal Cancer Treatment (Adult) (PDQ)–Patient Version. August 30, 2019. Accessed at www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/patient/adult/nasopharyngeal-treatment-pdq on March 15, 2022.

Last Revised: August 1, 2022

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