Nasopharyngeal cancer is a rare type of head and neck cancer. It starts in the upper part of your throat, behind the nose. This area is called the nasopharynx.
Scientists are not sure what exactly causes nasopharyngeal cancer. However, the cancer has been strongly linked to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).
Although EBV infection is common, not everyone who has EBV will get nasopharyngeal cancer. In the U.S., most people who have had an EBV infection never have long-term problems. That's because the body's immune system destroys the virus.
But sometimes, genetic material (DNA) from the virus mixes with the DNA in the cells of the nasopharynx. The change in DNA causes cells to grow and divide abnormally, causing cancer. This is rare.
The risk for NPC goes up if you eat a diet rich in salt-cured fish and meat. Tobacco and alcohol also increase the risk. Some scientists believe that chemicals in these things further damage the DNA in cells.