In this section: Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Symptoms, Signs & Tests

What do we mean by 'Nasopharyngeal Cancer'? It is a type of Throat Cancer that starts in or behind the nose. If it's not the cancer type you're looking for, please explore the information about other types of Throat Cancers or other types of Head and Neck Cancers.

All the information in this section is available in a PDF.

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1. Symptoms and signs of Nasopharyngeal Cancer

The signs and symptoms of Nasopharyngeal Cancer depend on where the cancer is, its size and how far it has spread in the body. 

Common signs and symptoms include:

  • nasal obstruction or stuffiness

  • frequent nose bleeds

  • blocked ear, decreased hearing or ringing in the ear (especially on one side only)

  • a lump in the neck

  • frequent headaches

  • numbness in the face

  • blurred or double vision

Most often these symptoms are not from Nasopharyngeal Cancer. However, if you have any of these symptoms for more than a few weeks, talk to your doctor as early as possible. They may be able to help diagnose and treat you. 

Watch a 3D video explainer about Nasopharyngeal Cancer:

2. What are the tests for Nasopharyngeal Cancer?

It is important that your doctor establishes the diagnosis of Nasopharyngeal Cancer, assesses the size of the cancer and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck or elsewhere in the body.

To answer these questions your doctor will need to do the following things:

  • talk with you about your medical history. This includes signs you may have noticed, any other health conditions, medications that you are taking, and whether you smoke or drink alcohol

  • perform a physical examination 
    by feeling and looking inside your throat and neck

  • order diagnostic tests,
    which may include scans.  Not everyone will need to have every test for Nasopharyngeal Cancer. Your doctor will recommend tests that are right for you.

The most common tests for Nasopharyngeal Cancer are:


Your doctor will use a very thin flexible tube with a tiny light and camera on it to look inside your nose to see your nasopharynx. 


This involves taking a small piece (sample) from the cancer. The sample is then examined under a microscope to check for cancer cells. This is often the only sure way to tell if you have cancer. Your doctor may recommend an incision biopsy or a needle biopsy.

  • Incision biopsy: Your doctor will take a small piece of tissue using a surgical knife. This can be done in the clinic using topical anaesthetic (a spray in the nose) or in hospital under general  anaesthetic (medicine to keep you unconscious), so that you don’t feel any pain. In both cases, an endoscope and biopsy forcep is used to go through the nose into the nasopharynx. There may be some bleeding after the biopsy. If you take blood thinners you may need to stop these for a few days before the biopsy.

  • Needle biopsy (Fine Needle Aspiration or FNA): This is used when there is a lump (enlarged lymph node) in your neck that could have cancer cells in it. During the procedure, your doctor will take some cells from the lump using a needle. Usually this is done with guidance from an ultrasound to make sure the needle is in the right spot. You may feel a bit uncomfortable during the biopsy.


This uses X-rays to take pictures of the inside of the body. If a person has cancer, a CT scan can help the doctor to see where it is, measure how big it is, and if it has spread into nearby organs or other parts of the body.


This uses magnetic fields to take pictures of the inside of the body. This helps your doctor see how far a cancer has grown into the tissue around it.


This is a whole body scan that uses a radioactive form of sugar which can show if nasopharyngeal cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or elsewhere in the body.