Nasopharyngeal Cancer

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Nasopharyngeal cancers are malignant tumors that develop in the upper part of the throat and behind the nose (doctors call this area the nasopharynx), near the base of the skull. The disease can be complex, affecting breathing, swallowing, and talking. At Duke, our experienced nasopharyngeal cancer team includes cancer specialists, skull base tumor experts, ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctors, head and neck surgeons, speech therapists, and others who work together to provide you or your child with complete care. 

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Diagnosing Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Our adult and pediatric cancer specialists use blood tests and advanced imaging -- such as MRI, CT, and PET scans -- to diagnose nasopharyngeal cancer. 

Doctors access the tumor through the nostril with an endoscope -- a hollow, flexible tube -- and use a small grabber to remove a sample of the tumor. No incision is required, and there is no scarring. Experts examine the sample under a microscope. This information helps your team develop a treatment plan that will offer the best possible results.

Our Locations

Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.


Just like other skull base tumors, nasopharyngeal cancers are complex because they grow close to vital nerves and structures like the carotid artery, the main vessel supplying blood to the brain.


The goals of chemotherapy are to destroy cancer cells or stop them from growing and to prevent cancer from returning. Oncologists provide chemotherapy through an intravenous infusion, in pill or liquid form, or via an injection. 

Radiation Therapy

External beam radiation therapy focuses high-energy X-ray beams on tumors to kill or stop the growth of cancer cells. Our radiation oncologists specially design individual radiation treatments to limit possible long-term effects of treatment. They use advanced imaging techniques to determine the exact location of the tumor and minimize damage to surrounding tissues.


Surgery may be recommended if the tumor is small or doesn’t respond to other treatments. Specialized head and neck surgeons often collaborate with neurosurgeons to perform the surgery using one or more approaches:

  • Surgeons reach the tumor through the nostrils using an endoscope. Because this minimally invasive technique requires no external incisions, it leaves little or no visible scarring and significantly speeds recovery time. 
  • Depending on the tumor’s location, surgeons may opt for a hybrid approach, combining the endoscopic technique with a traditional open incision, or craniotomy, through the skull. Surgeons rarely use the traditional approach alone. 
  • If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, they may need to be surgically removed.

Why Choose Duke

Advanced Surgical Options
Research shows that hospitals and surgeons who perform more surgeries tend to have better outcomes. Our surgeons are experts at treating rare skull base tumors like nasopharyngeal cancer. We offer solutions that other centers can't to people with complicated issues, such as tumors that affect the carotid artery. 

Access to the Latest Research and Treatments
Our nasopharyngeal cancer specialists are also researchers who are working to improve cancer treatment. That means you have access to the latest evidence-based treatments that may not be widely available elsewhere.

Care Coordination and Support
Our social workers help you navigate the medical system and coordinate the health services you or your child needs. They can help you work with insurance providers, connect you with support resources, and manage details related to your care. Our nurse coordinators also help you schedule appointments for tests, treatments, and related medical visits.

Cancer Survivorship Resources
Once treatment is complete, you can count on us for continuing support. We offer long-term follow-up services for preventive health care, including screenings and ongoing surveillance. 

Compassionate Care for Kids
We understand how difficult it is when your child is fighting cancer, so we try to make it easier on your entire family. Our child life experts can help explain procedures, offer encouragement, and arrange fun activities during a hospital stay. Our Teen and Young Adult Oncology Program brings together the expertise of pediatric and adult cancer specialists to determine what’s best for your child. We also offer outpatient services -- such as chemotherapy, transfusions, and lab tests -- 12 hours a day, seven days a week at Duke Children’s Valvano Day Hospital. This means your child won’t have to be admitted to the hospital just because they need treatment or feel ill on a day when their doctor’s office is closed.

Best Cancer Hospital in North Carolina

Where you receive your cancer care is important. Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why our cancer program is nationally ranked, and the highest-ranked program in North Carolina, according to U.S. News & World Report for 2023–2024.

This page was medically reviewed on 03/30/2022 by