Nasopharyngeal Cancer: Statistics

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 03/2023

ON THIS PAGE: You will find information about the estimated number of people who will be diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) each year. You will also read general information on surviving the disease. Remember, survival rates depend on several factors, and no 2 people with cancer are the same. Use the menu to see other pages.

Every person is different, with different factors influencing their risk of being diagnosed with this cancer and the chance of recovery after a diagnosis. It is important to talk with your doctor about any questions you have around the general statistics provided below and what they may mean for you individually. The original sources for these statistics are provided at the bottom of this page.

How many people are diagnosed with NPC?

NPC is uncommon in the United States. Less than 1 person out of 100,000 people is diagnosed with NPC each year. NPC is more common in certain parts of North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, particularly in some areas of China. The disease is also more commonly found in Native people in the Arctic. Worldwide, an estimated 133,354 people were diagnosed with NPC in 2020.

Men are 2 to 3 times more likely than women to be diagnosed with NPC. The disease can occur at any age, including in children. However, the risk for the disease slowly rises with age. In areas where the disease is not common, including the United States, cases are often seen in people ages 15 to 24. The number of cases then peaks again between the ages of 65 to 79. In areas where NPC risk is high, people between the ages of 45 and 59 are more likely to be diagnosed with the disease. Overall, the number of all NPC cases has been dropping for several decades.

In 2020, an estimated 80,008 people worldwide died from NPC.

What is the survival rate for NPC?

There are different types of statistics that can help doctors evaluate a person’s chance of recovery from NPC. These are called survival statistics. A specific type of survival statistic is called the relative survival rate. It is often used to predict how having cancer may affect life expectancy. Relative survival rate looks at how likely people with NPC are to survive for a certain amount of time after their initial diagnosis or start of treatment compared to the expected survival of similar people without this cancer.

Example: Here is an example to help explain what a relative survival rate means. Please note this is only an example and not specific to this type of cancer. Let’s assume that the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific type of cancer is 90%. “Percent” means how many out of 100. Imagine there are 1,000 people without cancer, and based on their age and other characteristics, you expect 900 of the 1,000 to be alive in 5 years. Also imagine there are another 1,000 people similar in age and other characteristics as the first 1,000, but they all have the specific type of cancer that has a 5-year survival rate of 90%. This means it is expected that 810 of the people with the specific cancer (90% of 900) will be alive in 5 years.

It is important to remember that statistics on the survival rates for people with NPC are only an estimate. They cannot tell an individual person if cancer will or will not shorten their life. Instead, these statistics describe trends in groups of people previously diagnosed with the same disease, including specific stages of the disease.

The 5-year relative survival rate for NPC in the United States is 63%.

The survival rates for NPC vary based on several factors. These include the stage of cancer, a person’s age and general health, and how well the treatment plan works.

If the cancer is located only in the nasopharynx, the 5-year relative survival rate is 82%. If the cancer has spread to nearby tissues or organs and/or regional lymph nodes, the 5-year relative survival rate is 72%. If there is distant spread to other parts of the body, the 5-year relative survival rate is 49%. Talk with your doctor about what to expect with your specific diagnosis.

Experts measure relative survival rate statistics for NPC every 5 years. This means the estimate may not reflect the results of advancements in how NPC is diagnosed or treated from the last 5 years. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about this information. Learn more about understanding statistics.

Statistics adapted from the websites of the American Cancer Society and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. (All sources accessed February 2023.)

The next section in this guide is Medical Illustrations. It offers drawings of body parts often affected by NPC. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.