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Nasopharyngeal Cancer

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The nasopharynx is the upper part of the pharynx (throat) located behind the nose. Air and food pass through the pharynx on the way to the trachea (windpipe) or the esophagus. The nostrils lead into the nasopharynx. Both sides of the nasopharynx have an opening leading to the ears. This cancer most commonly starts in the squamous cells that line the nasopharynx. East Asian patients and those exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus are more prone to develop nasopharyngeal cancer. Trouble breathing, speaking, or hearing can be symptoms.

Why Choose Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center?

One of only 71 NCI-designated cancer centers in the United States. Sylvester is one of only two cancer centers in Florida that have been recognized by the National Cancer Institute. The team earned this distinction through its outstanding work conducting research in its laboratories, treating patients in its clinics and hospitals, and reaching out to medically underserved communities with innovative prevention strategies.

The Department of Otolaryngology ranks No. 9 in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report. The team has one of the largest academic head-neck cancer groups in the country at South Florida’s only NCI-designated cancer center, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. Surgeons lead a well-established multidisciplinary oncology team, incorporating innovative techniques such as oral cancer screening, robotic technology, microvascular reconstruction, sentinel node identification, and a specialized postoperative care unit for these complex procedures.

More board-certified head and neck surgical specialists than any other South Florida provider. Our team offers advanced, simplified surgery solutions. In the majority of cases requiring reconstruction, you have just one operation for cancer removal and any reconstructive surgery. Sylvester is one of the best places in the country for simultaneous head and neck cancer surgery and microvascular reconstruction.

Advanced radiation oncology tools. Sylvester is one of only five medical centers in the country with ViewRay™ — MRI-guided radiation therapy. Our RapidArc® radiotherapy system delivers intensity modulated external radiation therapy (IMRT). These tools lead to more efficient and effective treatments, shorter treatment times, pinpoint accuracy in tumor targeting, and less damage to surrounding healthy tissue.

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Treatments

At Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, each cancer has a wide range of treatments that can be used alone or in combination to give the best outcome for your specific cancer, including standard therapies and novel therapies only available in clinical trials. That’s why careful diagnosis is so important.

  • Surgery

    Surgery is usually only used to remove lymph nodes. 

  • Radiation Therapy

    The usual treatment for early-stage nasopharyngeal cancers is radiation therapy. We aim the radiation beams accurately at the nasopharyngeal tumor. Lymph nodes in the neck typically get treated, too, to prevent cancer growing there. Some patients may have cancer cells in these lymph nodes that can’t be detected. 

    • IMRT (Intensity modulated radiation therapy): You benefit from Sylvester's experience as a world leader in treating head and neck cancers with IMRT, an advanced form of external-beam radiation therapy. This therapy allows radiation specialists to shape radiation doses to the exact three-dimensional size of your tumor. The precise control and flexibility can decrease radiation exposure to your healthy tissue.

    • Radiosensitizing Treatment: In some cases, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are used together to kill all the cancer cells. This approach decreases the need for any surgery. It also helps to keep your voice box and throat structures intact.

    Chemotherapy

    The high level of experience of Sylvester’s medical oncology team allows our physicians to choose and deliver the most advanced chemotherapy approaches, often before they become available in the community. Your doctor may prescribe chemotherapy before or after surgery or will combine chemotherapy with radiation therapy to try and avoid surgery altogether. Head and neck chemotherapy drugs do not usually cause you to lose any hair.

    Intravenous (infusion) chemotherapy is offered at our Comprehensive Treatment Unit (CTU) at Sylvester's Miami location, a 12,000-square-foot unit that includes 33 recliners and 11 private rooms. If you prefer, you may have your infusion treatments at the Deerfield Beach, Plantation, Hollywood, Coral Springs, Coral Gables and Kendall locations.

     

     

  • Targeted Therapy 

    This treatment uses medicines that target specific parts of cancer cells. For example, a protein called EGFR may accelerate the growth of head and neck cancer cells. The most commonly used medicine that targets these cells is called cetuximab. It blocks EGFR, so the cancer cell growth often slows or stops.


Tests

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, procedures for diagnosing head and neck cancers may include the following:

  • Endoscopic Ultrasound

    This exam uses a long, thin, flexible tube called an endoscope with a light at the end. It is put in through the nose so the doctor can get a close look at the inside of your nasal cavity, the back of your nose, throat, and voice box. The endoscope has a tool on its end that is used to remove samples of suspicious tissue.

  • Modified Barium Swallow

    This is a series of X-rays taken while you swallow a safe, chalky substance called barium. Our radiologist and speech and swallowing therapist lead this test. The barium coats the inside of your throat. Swallowing changes or obstructions become visible on the X-rays.

  • Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) Test

    This blood test checks for antibodies to the Epstein-Barr virus and DNA markers of the Epstein-Barr virus. These are found in the blood of patients who have been infected with EBV.

  • Hearing Test

    Each ear is checked separately to see whether soft and loud sounds and low- and high-pitched sounds can be heard. 

  • Computed Tomography (CT or CAT Scan) 

    In this test, an X-ray beam takes a series of pictures of the inside of your body from many angles. These images are then combined by a computer, giving a detailed 3-D picture of your body. The CT scan can be used to check the head and neck and is sometimes used to evaluate the chest, too.

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

    This test uses magnets and radio waves to take detailed pictures of the inside of your body to look for cancer in the neck.

  • Biopsy 

    A biopsy, taking a sample of the suspicious tissue, is the only sure way to know if you have cancer. The sample is checked by a pathologist who looks at the tissue under a microscope to check for cancer cells. The biopsy sample gets removed from the primary tumor site in the head/neck area. Your doctor will use a thin needle in a process called fine needle aspiration if there are cells in your lymph node that need testing

  • Chest X-ray or Chest CT Scan 

    This X-ray helps us see any cancer that has spread to your lungs.

  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan

    This test measures metabolic activity in your body tissue. Radioactive material in small amounts is injected into a vein. The radioactive material is seen in the images as highlighted places where cancer cells could be growing.

  • Staging Head and Neck Cancers 

    Staging is the word used to describe how early or advanced a cancer is, and how fast it is growing. Stages range from I (low) to IV (advanced). Staging helps us to decide what treatment might be best for your cancer.

Accepted Insurances

Note: Health plans that are currently contracted with UHealth are listed below. However, please check with your insurance provider to verify that UHealth is part of your provider network.