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What To Eat & Avoid When You Have Nasopharyngeal Cancer?

Nasopharyngeal cancer is epithelial cancer that develops in the cells of the upper pharynx (behind the nose at the top of the throat). It is rare cancer affecting mostly adolescents or people over the age of 50 years. Men are more often affected than women. Nasopharyngeal cancer can remain localized but it can also spread to surrounding tissues and organs (lymph nodes, oropharynx, neck, jaw, orbit, or skull base).1

Several environmental and behavioral factors have been shown to be associated with nasopharyngeal cancer: exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus, exposure to formaldehyde and wood dust, consumption of salted fish and smoking are primary concerns. Other risk factors include passive smoking, alcohol consumption, and consumption of red or processed meat. A genetic risk factor is also identified by some studies.2

What To Eat & Avoid When You Have Nasopharyngeal Cancer?

What To Eat & Avoid When You Have Nasopharyngeal Cancer?

Limit Your Consumption Of Salted Fish And Pickled Foods: Research shows that a diet rich in salted (or pickled) foods, particularly China-style salted fish, heightens the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer. Other studies suggest that fermented vegetables can also increase risk. You could reduce the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer by limiting the amount of salted or pickled foods you consume.

Eat Fruits And Vegetables: Research shows that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can provide some protection against nasopharyngeal cancer. Fruits and vegetables play an important role in a healthy diet. Eat various fruits and vegetables every day.

Nasopharyngeal Cancer May Affect Your Eating Capacity: Nasopharyngeal cancer often makes eating difficult due to various reasons. You may suffer from dry mouth, changes in taste sensation, and difficulty in swallowing. Patients often experience severe weight because of an eating disorder. Always maintain proper hygiene to avoid secondary infections.

A Soft Diet Can Help: Make dishes by long and slow cooking (vegetables and meats). Eat small quantities of food at a time, frequently, and take soft meals (stews, soups) and Have enough protein diet. Never try to eat quickly, take your time, and try to eat slowly.

Other Foods To Try: It will be easier to take moist food than dry ones. Make food softer by using custard, milk, butter, cream, gravies, and sauces. Fish with sauce and soft, spongy cakes with cream and custard are good options. You can also make milkshakes with ice cream using fruits like strawberry, chocolate, and banana and make porridge of cereals.

What To Avoid When You Have Nasopharyngeal Cancer?

What To Avoid When You Have Nasopharyngeal Cancer?

Try not to take foods that require heavy chewing, are dry and are difficult to swallow. For instance, avoid tough meats, dry biscuits, dry bread, raw vegetables, and nuts.

Find Out If Your Risk Of Nasopharyngeal Cancer Is High

Some people may be at a higher risk than average to have nasopharyngeal cancer. Discuss your risk with your doctor. If it is above average, you may need to see your doctor more often to check for nasopharyngeal cancer. Your doctor will tell you which exams to pass and how often.2

The Development Of Nasopharyngeal Cancer

The majority of nasopharyngeal cancers develop in the cells that cover the inner surface of the nasopharynx. But rarer forms of nasopharyngeal cancer also exist. Papillary adenocarcinoma develops in the nasopharyngeal cavity and may obstruct the nasal passages. As for carcinoma of accessory salivary glands, it affects the very small salivary glands found in the nasopharynx lining. In another form, sarcoma is a very rare type of cancer that originates in the connective tissues of the nasopharynx, i.e. bones, cartilage, fat, muscles, and blood vessels.2

Reducing The Risk Of Nasopharyngeal Cancer

You can reduce your risk of nasopharyngeal cancer by adopting the following behaviors.3

  1. Do not smoke
  2. Smoking is a risk factor for nasopharyngeal cancer. Do not start smoking. If you smoke, it is better to quit for your health.
  3. Follow the guidelines for workplace safety

Breathing formaldehyde or wood dust at work is linked to an increased risk of nasopharyngeal cancer. Follow all safety instructions at work to limit your contact with formaldehyde and wood dust.


Nasopharyngeal cancer is comparatively less common and predominantly affects individuals older than 50 years. It is a cancer of the epithelial cells present in the upper pharynx. Certain dietary habits may increase the chance of acquiring this cancer type. It is advisable to keep minimum salted and pickled fish or meat in your diet. Take a soft diet and avoid dry, raw, and tough foods.


  1. Argiris A, Karamouzis MV, Raben D, Ferris RL. Head and neck cancer. The Lancet. 2008;371(9625):1695-1709.
  2. Lee AW, Lin JC, Ng WT. Current management of nasopharyngeal cancer. Paper presented at: Seminars in radiation oncology2012.
  3. Farrow DC, Vaughan TL, Berwick M, Lynch CF, Swanson GM, Lyon JL. Diet and nasopharyngeal cancer in a low‐risk population. International journal of cancer. 1998;78(6):675-679.

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Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:May 14, 2020

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