For Asian Americans the Risk of Developing Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma Varies Amongst Different Ethnic Groups


According to a recent article, a study shows the risk of getting nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) varies considerably in different ethnic groups among Asian Americans.

Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma (NPC)

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is cancer that occurs in the nasopharynx, which is located behind your nose and above the back of your throat.

NPC is rare in the United States. It occurs much more frequently in other parts of the world — specifically Southeast Asia.

It is also difficult to detect early. That’s probably because the nasopharynx isn’t easy to examine and symptoms of nasopharyngeal carcinoma mimic those of other, more-common conditions.


In its early stages, nasopharyngeal carcinoma may not cause any symptoms. Possible noticeable symptoms of nasopharyngeal carcinoma include:

  • A lump in your neck caused by a swollen lymph node
  • Blood in your saliva
  • Bloody discharge from your nose
  • Nasal congestion or ringing in your ears
  • Hearing loss
  • Frequent ear infections
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches

The Study

Alice Lee, PhD, of California State University, and her colleagues, looked at data from close to 9,700 patients who were diagnosed with invasive NPC between 1990 and 2014. Half of the patients studied were Asian American, and they were divided into 9 ethnic subgroups. Researchers then compared the incidence of the cancer within the subgroups to the that of non-Hispanic White individuals.


Researchers found that there was a substantially higher rate of NPC in almost all of the Asian-American subgroups. The only exceptions proved to be Japanese and Indian/Pakistani patients.

Dr. Lee also noted that Epstein-Barr virus and diet (salt-preserved foods in particular) are factors known to increase the risk of NPC. In Asian populations, there is a high rate of consumption of salty foods, which could contribute to the population’s risk of NPC.

“This is important since these differences can help inform disease etiology as well as improve prevention efforts. It will be interesting for future research to explore the environmental, behavioral, and genetic factors that may account for these findings,” said Dr. Lee.

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