Doctors at the Tri-Service General Hospital in Taipei urged the public to be aware of unusual growths on the neck, as well as prolonged mucous secretion from the nose, saying that these maybe symptoms of nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a common form of cancer of the nasal passage.
The hospital said it recently admitted two youngsters with nasopharyngeal carcinoma, who are just 13 years old.
The two are responding well to radiation treatment and chemotherapy, doctors said.
Chu Yung-hsiang (朱永祥), head of the otolaryngology department, said that each year about 1,100 individuals are diagnosed with nasopharyngeal carcinoma.
“The average age of patients with this type of cancer is 49. This is the lowest age occurrence among the 12 most common cancers in Taiwan. It is quite rare to have patients aged just 13, but fortunately this type of cancer has a relatively high healing rate,” Chu said.
Chu said tumors or unusual swellings on the neck are one of the cancer’s symptoms, because it tends to affect the lymphatic vessels, and although the patient may not experience any pain, the tumors can grow significantly with time.
Other symptoms include nose bleeding, a chronic stuffy nose, ear discomfort, or fluid in the inner ears, headaches and double vision, Chu said.
Although some people think nasopharyngeal carcinoma is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), also known as human herpesvirus 4, Chu said the virus is a promoting factor, and not a causative agent.
He said health examinations commonly check for EBV antibodies in the blood, which had been referred to as a form of “nasopharyngeal carcinoma indicator.”
However, Chu said most adults have come in with contact with EBV at some point in their lives, and the majority of people will test positive for the antibody, thus the occurence of EBV antibodies is just for reference use.
Chu said that biopsies are needed for a more reliable diagnosis, and the main form of treatment is radiation treatment, with chemotherapy as a supplementary when necessary.
He stressed that radiation therapy is very effective for treating nasopharyngeal carcinoma, and therefore urged people not to rely on folk medicine and unconventional remedies, as these could worsen the condition.