Survival Rates for Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Survival rates can give you an idea of what percentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive a certain length of time (usually 5 years) after they were diagnosed. They can’t tell you how long you will live, but they may help give you a better understanding of how likely it is that your treatment will be successful.

Keep in mind that survival rates are estimates and are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had a specific cancer, but they can’t predict what will happen in any particular person’s case. These statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Ask your doctor how these numbers might apply to you.

What is a 5-year relative survival rate?

A relative survival rate compares people with the same type and stage of cancer to people in the overall population. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific stage of nasopharyngeal cancer is 80%, it means that people who have that cancer are, on average, about 80% as likely as people who don’t have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after being diagnosed.

Where do these numbers come from?

The American Cancer Society relies on information from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database, maintained by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), to provide survival statistics for different types of cancer.

The SEER database tracks 5-year relative survival rates for nasopharyngeal cancer in the United States, based on how far the cancer has spread. The SEER database, however, does not group cancers by AJCC TNM stages (stage 1, stage 2, stage 3, etc.). Instead, it groups cancers into localized, regional, and distant stages:

  • Localized: There is no sign that the cancer has spread outside of the nasopharynx.
  • Regional: The cancer has spread outside the nasopharynx to nearby structures or lymph nodes.
  • Distant: The cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, such as the lungs or liver.

5-year relative survival rates for nasopharyngeal cancer

These numbers are based on people diagnosed with cancers of the nasopharynx between 2011 and 2017.

SEER stage

5-year relative survival rate

Localized

81%

Regional

73%

Distant

48%

All SEER stages combined

62%

Understanding the numbers

  • These numbers apply only to the stage of the cancer when it is first diagnosed. They do not apply later on if the cancer grows, spreads, or comes back after treatment.
  • These numbers don’t take everything into account. Survival rates are grouped based on how far the cancer has spread. But other factors, such as your age, overall health, how well the cancer responds to treatment, and the levels of Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) DNA in your blood before treatment can also affect your outlook.
  • People now being diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer may have a better outlook than these numbers show. Treatments improve over time, and these numbers are based on people who were diagnosed and treated at least five years earlier.

 

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, Chan A, and Le Quynh-Thu. Treatment of early and localregionally advanced 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)–Health Professional Version. August 30, 2019. Accessed at www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/hp/adult/nasopharyngeal-treatment-pdq on March 30, 2022.

SEER*Explorer: An interactive website for SEER cancer statistics [Internet]. Surveillance Research Program, National Cancer Institute. [Cited 2021 September 27]. Available from https://seer.cancer.gov/explorer/.

Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program (www.seer.cancer.gov) SEER*Stat Database: Incidence - SEER Research Data, 18 Registries (2000-2018), National Cancer Institute, DCCPS, Surveillance Research Program, released April 2021, based on the November 2020 submission.

References

Hui EP, Chan A, and Le Quynh-Thu. Treatment of early and localregionally advanced 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)–Health Professional Version. August 30, 2019. Accessed at www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/hp/adult/nasopharyngeal-treatment-pdq on March 30, 2022.

SEER*Explorer: An interactive website for SEER cancer statistics [Internet]. Surveillance Research Program, National Cancer Institute. [Cited 2021 September 27]. Available from https://seer.cancer.gov/explorer/.

Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program (www.seer.cancer.gov) SEER*Stat Database: Incidence - SEER Research Data, 18 Registries (2000-2018), National Cancer Institute, DCCPS, Surveillance Research Program, released April 2021, based on the November 2020 submission.

Last Revised: August 1, 2022

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