KUALA LUMPUR: A type of nose cancer known as Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma (NPC) is most common among Malaysians of Chinese ancestry, said Dr Rekha Balachandran, Ipoh Pantai Hospital Ear, Nose and Throat consultant; and head and neck surgeon.
There is also a high incidence of NPC among the Bidayuh in Sarawak.
“Heredity, lifestyle and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infections are factors which cause the cancer. Having a close family member with NPC increases the risk of the disease, and frequent consumption of preserved food such as salted vegetables and dried fish also contributes to it,” she said.
NPC often appears in the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat behind the nose and near the base of the skull.
Malaysians were stunned by recent reports that national number one badminton star Datuk Lee Chong Wei was diagnosed with early stage nose cancer, with many wishing him a speedy recovery.
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The first symptom of NPC is often a painless swelling or lump in the upper neck. Those who have such a lump for more than three weeks are advised to seek medical advice immediately.
“The second symptom is bleeding from the nose. Nasal blockage or stuffiness and reduced hearing, especially on one side only, are symptoms too,” said Dr Rekha.
However, she said NPC can be treated if detected at an early stage.
“The five-year survival rate is actually quite high. For the earliest stage of NPC, stage one and two, the survival rate is 80 to 85 per cent. I have personally seen some patients with NPC survive more than five years… 10 to 20 years. As long it is detected before the tumour spreads too much,” she added.
Difficult to detect
Dr Rekha said NPC is difficult to diagnose early because the initial symptoms do not cause pain or discomfort.
“Patients with the symptoms may not visit a doctor because they think it is not anything dangerous, and also because the tumours grow in places we can’t see. They are very easy to miss,” she added.
Dr Rekha said that a healthy lifestyle would help reduce the risk of contracting NPC.
“Reducing or eliminating some types of foods may lower the NPC risk. Your diet should be balanced. Eat more fresh greens and fruits and avoid preserved foods,” she added.